For Price – the setting is right

Harare – Thirty years ago, Nick Price teed off at the Firestone Country Club in Arkon, Dublin, Ohio in the United States carrying the baggage of the man who had choked at the British Open, the previous year and with the greatest golfers in the world for company.

The occasion at Muirfield Village was the battle for the World Series of Golf title and all the focus, naturally, was on golf heavyweights like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin and Isao Aoki.

Price, then a 26-year-old making his debut on the US PGA, wasn’t expected to win, his best finish in 17 events in the United States had been a tie for ninth at the Kemper Open, and he was carrying the weight of his spectacular collapse at the British Open the previous year.

The Zimbabwean led by three strokes, in the 1982 British Open at Troon in Scotland, with just six holes to play but a disastrous finish, which saw him go four-over par in those final half-a-dozen holes, handed the Claret Jug to Watson.

But the Price who showed up at Muirfield wasn’t a choker and after impressive rounds of 66, 68, 69 and 67, the Zimbabwean powered to victory and took the title, and US$100 000, beating Nicklaus by four strokes and pushing Watson and company into the shade.

It was a remarkable achievement, his first success on United States soil, and no one captured the significance of his victory, especially against the background of the elite golfers he beat for the title, than Sports Illustrated.

“At the finish, the scoreboard listed a group that might have convened to discuss endorsement fees—until you got to the top,” said the respected magazine.

“You had the feeling that if Price had had time to look that board over, he would have reached for his autograph book.”

The rest, as they say, is history and Price went on to win three Major titles – twice in the US PGA in 1992 and 1994 and once in the British Open in 1994, exactly 12 years after his spectacular collapse at Troon.

Ten years ago, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall Of Fame.

In October, Price will return to Muirfield Village, where his success story on the US PGA began with that sensational triumph over Nicklaus and company exactly 30 years ago, not as a player but for his first role as captain of the international team in the Presidents Cup. No doubt, it’s a special place for Price and holds special memories. They even have his pictures on the walls of the Firestone Country Club.

“This golf course was so very kind to me,” Price told the 2013 Presidents Cup official website when he arrived at Muirfield Village.

“In 1983, when I won here, what was so significant was the fact it was on the heels of basically throwing the British Open away in 1982, where I played the last six holes rather poorly.

“So, to come here on this stage, and if you have a look who I beat in that last round, it was Nicklaus, Floyd, Aoki, Hale Irwin, the real powerhouses of golf in the early '80s and late '70s at that time. 

“So as a 26-year-old, it was quite intimidating to say the least. But it launched my career, started my career here in the US.”

Price will be having his first captaincy role when the Internationals Team, made up of players who aren’t either European or American, take on the United States’ stars in the battle for the Presidents Cup.

Australia’s Adam Scott, who broke his Major chasing duck by winning in the United States this year, leads the Internationals team against a United States team that features the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, winner of the British Open this year.

It is likely, going by the way the rankings are panning out, that the Internationals team will feature a host of South Africans, six of them, and with Price leading the team, it will have a huge Southern African flavour.

Louis Oosthuizen, who is second on the order of merit in the race for the Presidents Cup places, leads the South African contingent which is likely to feature Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els and Branden Grace.

There will be two places for the captain’s pick.

There are concerns about Oosthuizen’s fitness and it is something that has been nagging Price as he looks ahead for the big contest.

“We really won't know if he's match fit or not until the week before, which being one of the top four or five players that I have on the team, it's a concern,” Price said.

“But for most of us, or me anyway, I said to him, just get healthy first. That's the most important thing. I don't really want him to injure himself further.

“Anything in the torso in the golf swing, as many of you know, can be very painful. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I think.” Points are there still to be won and the US PGA championship on this week is also another avenue and the team will not take real shape until after all the big tournaments going into October.

“We've got a really good team shaping up,” said Price.

“My biggest concern is to get some team spirit and to try and get the guys together as a team before we actually get there, but of course I've only got a month to do that because I choose the team a month before the actual Presidents Cup.

That's going to be quite a daunting task.

“The American team is going to have a lot stronger on paper than our team is going to be. But it's hard to measure the camaraderie and the willpower and the spirit of a team because that can overcome a lot of things. 

“So that's one of my prime objectives is to get amongst the guys and to sell them how keen I am and how keen I want them to be on playing in it and to really be a part of it.”

The Americans are favourites, by a distance, after winning the Presidents Cup four years ago and with Woods and company in such very good form. But that’s what they told Nick Price when he arrived at Muirfield Village, 30 years ago, to face Nicklaus and company. How he defied the odds that time, and set himself on the way to success, is a spirit Price wants to instil in his players.

August 2013
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