Robert Allenby was the next big thing. In the early '90s an Aussie tabloid dubbed him "Normanby," making him the first, though certainly not the last, Australian golfer to assume the burden of enormous expectations in the post-Shark era. Others saw in Allenby even greater potential. "He has an amazing ability to rise to the occasion in a crisis," said Australian legend Peter Thomson, "which is potentially the big difference between him and Norman." Then everything went black. Just as Allenby's career was hitting full stride, a car crash on a misty night in Spain in 1996 nearly ended his life. Years of pain and frustration followed as he clawed his way back, but Allenby is not dwelling on the past. Not anymore, that is. With a new attitude adjustment "I'm not beating myself up anymore," he says he is a new man playing a lot like his old self. And whatever the topic his scrape with death, his ugly spat with Tour pro Mark Hensby, drug use on the PGA Tour Allenby is as candid as ever.
For years you found it difficult to talk about your accident. What happened that night? You were in a Spanish beach town, on your way home from dinner, right?
Right. So I'm probably doing about 45 mph, nothing crazy. But I didn't know the road that well and a sea mist had come in, so I couldn't see that far in front of me. And then bang! straight into a roundabout. It was solid concrete, about four or five feet high all the way around. The last thing I remember is saying, "Oh, sh-t!" The car stopped dead, the seat belt snapped, and I went straight through the windscreen. I cut my head open on the top [roll] bar. From there I went through the windscreen and my teeth split my lip open like a sardine can. Then I smashed the steering wheel with my chest and broke my sternum.
Your doctors said you were lucky to survive.
They thought I'd broken my neck, and that I'd have brain damage because of how deep the cut was and how much of my skull was open. The worst part was I was unconscious for a couple hours, and when I came to, I was in the middle of an MRI, in a brain scan. I'm lying on my back with [the scanner] next to my face. I'm screaming my ass off. I tried to move my neck and couldn't, and that's when I knew there was something wrong.
How much did your injuries set back your career?
I had just won three tournaments on the European Tour and I was playing really awesome golf. Then the accident happened. It set me back a few years mentally and physically. Even now if I press hard enough on the bottom of my sternum it still hurts. I have problems with my neck every week on Tour. And I've had to do so much physical training because I virtually changed the whole shape of my spine. I spent probably five years trying to force my game to get back to where it was. The years just kept flying by, and I was like, "Sh-t, I've got to do something about this." Then at the start of last year I realized that I was going to have to make a change if I wanted to get my game back to where I thought it should be.
Where should it be?
A top-10 or top-15 player for the next 10 years or so. I'm getting there. I've got everything right where I want it.
You had 16 top 10s from 2007-08. How did you jump-start your game?
The biggest thing that's helped me is working with Peter Crone. He's not a sports psychologist, but more of a life coach. The first week we worked together was L.A. last year and I finished third. What he does is remove all the crap, the things that you make up, the things that you worry about that aren't true. I've been working on the present instead of worrying about what I did two years ago or what could happen in the future. It's really helped my golf because it doesn't matter if I miss a putt. It doesn't matter if I hit it in the trees left it's only a golf shot. In the past it's always been, "Oh, you idiot! What did you do that for?" That's been the biggest change in my game. I'm playing golf with complete freedom.
You've had your share of outbursts after poor shots. What was the source of your temper?
It's really just from trying too hard. I've always been very competitive. I just hate to lose. I hate to make mistakes. But now it's like, "Hey, it's all right, because I'm only human." I've really lightened up so much.
You've won 19 times, including seven Australian majors, but nothing in the U.S. since 2001.
It's been tough or it was tough. Now it's no big deal because it is what it is. I know that my time will come pretty soon. It's not from a lack of trying, that's for sure.