Ian Woosnam looks ahead before looking back. He’s excited, almost jumping, and it’s been a while since he was able to do that.
“If I go all the way to Augusta, I might as well tell people I’m going to win,” he says. “I’ll get another of those nice coats – maybe I’ll borrow another from the press officer – and I’ll bring some lame in the golf bag, do it right this time.”
He has to giggle, the 63-year-old they call Woosie. It’s been 30 years since this great little Welshman won the Masters and two years since he renounced the old place, determined never to let his aching back and putts go through the pain of those Augusta hills again. Then he changed his mind.
Ian Woosnam returns to the Masters again after a successful back surgery last year
The Welshman was victorious in Augusta in 1991 and is cheerful for going back pain-free
“I always said if I could do something with my back, I would try again,” he says. ‘I had surgery a year ago and I feel just as strong as I was in my thirties. Honestly. I thought about the start of the year, had the invitation to play as a past winner and I was looking forward to it. It has been 18 months since I participated, but why not?
“I have a golf room in my house here in Jersey. I set up the SkyTrak to measure everything – my clubhead speed is 107 mph and my drives are 265 yards high and nearly 30, so 295 yards from the tee. If only I could draw, huh?
‘I’m excited. A few more laps at Augusta, maybe make the cut when the putts drop and it’s always nice to go back. For me it is so much more special because 1991 – 30 years flew by. ‘
A particular round is still fresh in Woosnam’s memory. Not the fourth at Augusta, not the walk with Tom Watson, not that muppet on the 14th, and not the victory lunge in those tartan pants. Not yet. No, his memory first returns to Oswestry, his hometown.
“It was winter, early 1991,” says Woosnam. “I got knocked and shot 57 – that’s missing one two feet and three feet off the last three, so God knows what it could have been. I got loose and felt, “You know, this could be quite a year.” ‘
Until 1991, his career was on the eve of that special something without really pushing through. Since leaving in a motor home in 1976, this dairy farmer’s son had won 52 professional tournaments and finished in the top eight of a major five times. But he hadn’t yet picked up one of the four that really matter. He started to think about it.
Woosnam admits he felt the pressure to finally win an important title in the 1991 Masters
“It was a bit of a monkey on my back,” he says. ‘It was in my head, but it went well, I had won a tournament in New Orleans three weeks earlier and on the Monday before the Masters I became number 1 in the world rankings. I came to Augusta and I said I deserve that ranking and I have to prove it. ‘
After one lap he failed to live up to his bullishness and was five off the lead after a 72.
“I changed my putter,” he says. ‘Big difference.’
He started driving with laps of 66 and 67, and at the start of a dramatic final loop, he was one stroke away from Watson, that American hero who was on a mission to win his first major in nine years. The protectors were not equally divided in their affection.
“Who do you think they supported?” says Woosnam. “I still remember the 13th hole – it got loud.”
By this time, at the exit to Amen Corner, Woosnam was 11 down and Watson was back four.
Tom Watson had experienced the fuss against him playing with Jack Nicklaus
“We had to wait a long time on the tee,” says Woosnam. ‘I pulled my driveway to the left and I heard this roar and thought,’ Oh, it hit trees and came out ‘. The cheers were actually because it went into the bloody creek.
‘I took bogey and Tom made an eagle. On the 14th tee, this guy shouts, “This is Amen Corner, not some sea liaison course.” My Welsh temper lifted and I hit this drive like a rocket, turn around, swing my bat at him, “Up yours”.
“When we walk away, Tom comes up with a smile and says,” You know I always got this when I played with Jack Nicklaus. ” He’s a great guy, Tom, a nice guy. He was always my hero and there we were, fighting for the Masters. ‘
Another 15-year-old Watson eagle leveled him with Woosnam and three straight birdies from Jose Maria Olazabal in the group up front resulted in a three-player draw.
Olazabal eventually lost a shot to finish 10 under and then Watson crashed into trees leading to a double bogey.
To avoid a play-off with Olazabal, Woosnam had to pull out a putting from two meters. The image of him crouching in his tartan pants as the ball fell went around the world.
Woosnam got par from two and a half meters on the 72nd hole and crouched to celebrate
“Pure relief,” said Woosnam, who extended the event’s British dominance to a fourth year after victories for Sandy Lyle (1988) and Nick Faldo (1989 and 1990).
“I always thought if I could only win one major I would be happy and I was.”
With this he received the most appreciated garment in the sport. Turns out it was used.
“They didn’t have anything to fit,” says Woosnam, who could reach 5ft 4in with his spikes.
‘I needed 38 shorts, so they had to take over the green jacket from a press officer. You get new ones as the years go by, but I still have its original. ‘
The same cannot be said for the trophy he received, or any other artifact.
“The trophy was stolen on a train headed for Sports Personality or something,” he says. ‘The tartan pants are gone too. I’m sure my wife threw them out, but she will never admit it. ‘
Woosnam groans his face. He remembers his offering the following year at the Champions Dinner. As was his right as returning champion, he set the menu, but fears the outcome almost brought the club into disrepute.
“In a hotel in Oswestry, I had this delicious leg of lamb in hay and that’s what I wanted,” he says. Unfortunately, this was a time when they banned the shipping of meat if it had bone in it. In the end, it wasn’t quite the same – everyone was chewing through this thing! ‘
He’s smiling his way into a new memory and another anniversary as this is also the 20th year since his near miss at the Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
There was no green jacket of the right size available, so Woosnam got the press officer
“That damn driver,” as he puts it. He can now see the funny side.
Famously, Woosnam was part of the lead on the last day when his caddy, Miles Byrne, approached with a problem. “You’re going to be ballistic,” Byrne said, before explaining that he left a second driver in his bag, meaning he had 15 clubs and thus a two-stroke penalty. Woosnam had a face like hell when he threw that extra club to the ground.
“Everywhere I go, it comes up,” he says. ‘I was in Florida a few years ago. This man shouts, “Did you count your clubs?” The number of people who have sold my club is impressive. It must have been 100. ‘
And poor Byrne? After being given a second chance, he arrived late on the Woosnam tee fourteen days later and that’s where the partnership ended. They haven’t spoken since then.
“He was a good caddy and it was just a mistake,” says Woosnam. “A big mistake, you know.”
He finally finished third in 2001 with four strokes.
Woosnam never got a second major to go with 50 weeks as World No. 1 champion and 52 wins in his career, not counting his captain of the 2006 European Ryder Cup team, which won by a joint record margin.
During the traditional annual Champions Dinner, the returning champion sets that year’s menu
Woosnam shared the lead at the 2001 Open on Sunday before being awarded a two-shot penalty
“Whenever I see Paul McGinley, I ask him why he got a twenty foot putt in the end,” he jokes.
He doesn’t watch golf that much these days, a bit bored with the drive-and-chip nature of a game that changes beyond recognition due to the ball and club technology.
“I can ride 20 meters further with this equipment in my 60s than when I won the Masters,” he says. “The ball has to be changed, bring the shoot back in.”
His own golf during lockdown was usually nine holes a week at La Moye in Jersey, where the restrictions were less pronounced. He has shocked himself since his back surgery.
“I don’t think I’ve been out of order in the last three months,” he says.
His first game in 18 months will be more difficult. The hills will be steeper, the putts a little faster, the opportunity a little bigger. He’s missed the cut in 17 of his last 18 visits to Georgia.
“Okay, so winning might be a bit difficult,” laughs Woosnam. ‘But it always feels good to be there. Will always.’
The Welshman led Europe to the 2006 Ryder Cup success at The K Club in Ireland
Woosnam believes the ball should be replaced to keep golf from becoming a drive-and-chip match