IAN WOOSNAM is a Welsh golfer who enjoyed a glittering professional career, including victory in the US Masters at Augusta, on April 14, 1991, when he triumphed in brilliant fashion in claiming a one-shot victory over leading rival Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal.
Nicknamed ‘Woosie’, the diminutive Welshman was one of the ‘Big Five’ generation of European golfers, all born within 12 months of one another, all of whom won Majors and made Europe competitive in the Ryder Cup. His peers in this group were Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle.
Woosnam, who has won more than 50 professional tournaments, including 29 times on the European Tour, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017.
Woosnam was born on March 2, 1958, to Welsh parents in the town of Oswestry, Shropshire in England. He started playing at the Llanymynech Golf Club, which straddles the Wales-England border and has 15 holes in Wales and three in England.
He worked on the family farm for six months after leaving school and credits his stocky physique to lifting heavy hay bales. Woosnam is short in stature for a male golfer at 5ft 4½in (1.64m), but always had the advantage of being a powerful striker of the ball. He played as an amateur in regional competitions in Shropshire alongside Lyle.
Woosnam turned professional in 1976 and first played the European Tour in 1979. He famously spent his early years on Tour driving around the continent in a camper van, living on a diet of baked beans to save money.
After three modest seasons, his career took off in 1982 when he won the Swiss Open and came eighth on the Order of Merit prize money list. He also finished in the top 10 on the Order of Merit every year from 1983 to 1991 and again in 1993, 1996 and 1997, making 13 times in all.
In 1987 and 1990 he was first, and in the former year he set a world record for global tournament earnings of £1,062,662. He has won 28 official money events on the European Tour and many other events around the world.
Woosnam placed third in the 1986 Open Championship. In 1991, he reached the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, eventually spending a total of 50 weeks as World number one. In the same year, he emulated his British rivals, Lyle and Faldo, by winning the Masters; the first person representing Wales to ever win a Major championship.
After winning the Torras Monte Carlo Golf Open in 1991, Woosnam had a decline in form in the second half of the year and said that he was suffering from exhaustion after playing in too many tournaments across the world. In December 1991, his sterling silver Masters trophy, a $9,000 copy of the original, was stolen from a British train.
Woosnam’s last official European Tour victory was in the 1997 Volvo PGA Championship. In the late 1990s, his form began to fade, but he nearly made a spectacular comeback at The Open Championship in 2001, when he finished third despite suffering a two-stroke penalty for starting the final round with 15 clubs in his bag instead of the allowable maximum of 14.
While his caddie, Miles Byrne, was responsible for this error, Woosnam decided at the time not to dismiss him, stating: “It is the biggest mistake he will make in his life. He won’t do it again. He’s a good caddie. I am not going to sack him. He’s a good lad.”
Woosnam did dismiss his caddie two weeks later when, after a night drinking on the town, Byrne failed to turn up to tee-time.
Later in 2001, at the age of 43, Woosnam became the oldest player to win the World Match Play Championship (not an official European Tour event at the time) when he beat Pádraig Harrington 2 & 1 in the final. Woosnam also became the first player to capture the trophy in three different decades, having previously won the World Match Play in 1987 and 1990.
Woosnam had a record outward nine holes of 28 (seven under par) in the 2001 final against Harrington, which tied the tournament record of seven successive birdies in a match.
Woosnam was a member of eight consecutive European Ryder Cup teams from 1983 to 1997. Despite not winning a singles match, he accumulated an overall record of 14 wins, 12 losses and five halves in 31 matches. He was a vice-captain for the 2002 European team and was elected as captain for the 2006 Ryder Cup, leading Europe to victory over the US 18½–9½ at the K Club, County Kildare, Ireland.
On June 1, 2008, Woosnam won his first stroke play title in 11 years at the Parkridge Polish Seniors Championship at Kraków Valley Golf and Country Club, finishing with a course record 63.
The tournament was his third appearance on the European Seniors Tour, which he joined after turning 50 in March 2008. Woosnam went on to win the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit that year, becoming the only person to have won the Order of Merit on both the European Seniors Tour and the regular European Tour.
In December 1987, Woosnam won the first of his three BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year awards, which he went on to win in 1990 and 1991.
He said: “I’ve been proud to play with the Welsh flag next to my name. If I was paid a pound every time I was asked where Wales was, or what the golf was like in my home country, I would probably have doubled my career earnings. One US journalist even asked me to explain exactly where in Scotland Wales could be found!
“I’ve always enjoyed the difference of being Welsh. We only had four touring golfers in Europe when David Llewellyn and myself won the World Cup in Hawaii back in 1987. Being proud of being Welsh means you’ve always got a story to tell. And golfers love stories, particularly if there’s a drink on the table.”
Following the 2006 Ryder Cup success, Woosnam was awarded an OBE in the 2007 New Year’s Honours List and said afterwards: “The Ryder Cup was fantastic and was always going to be the pinnacle of my career. On top of it, to be recognised via an award like this is obviously brilliant and I feel very proud indeed.”
In addition to his OBE, Woosnam has been one of Britain’s leading golfing ambassadors and an Honorary Member of the European tour.
His lifetime in the game was further reflected in his passion for golf course design. Through his Ian Woosnam Signature Design and RAW golf design projects, he has created an outstanding golf design portfolio.
READ: Ian Woosnam’s Guide to Golfing in Wales (Visit Wales)
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