Wednesday, February 21, 2007

When Stuart Appleby arrived on the PGA Tour in 1996 he was talked about in the same terms as other young comers like David Duval, Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard. With victories in both 1997 and '98, Appleby seemed on the verge of stardom, but then his career was derailed by personal tragedy. Following the 1998 British Open, his wife, Renay, was struck and killed by a car. He would win only once in the ensuing four seasons, but personally and professionally everything has come together for him of late. After marrying Ashley Saleet in.December 2002, he finished a career-best 12th on the money list in '03. At press time, Appleby stood 11th in 2004 earnings, thanks in part to his win at the Mercedes Championship--his fifth Tour title.

Last summer you were making a nice living, but you hadn't won in four years. Since then you've turned into one of the best players in the game. What happened? I took a hard look at the mental part of my game. I really did some work on my melon. I also worked on my body, and there were things in my swing too that were physical issues. But predominantly, I did a lot of work on my thought process. I just developed a whole new plan.

Sounds like Phil Mickelson when he announced he was going to start playing from the fairway: What took so long? I don't know. It's like a drought breaking. You can't control when it's going to rain. It's that way with golf sometimes, you feel like, Hey, all I have to do is get my confidence back. Well, it doesn't just come with a puff of air. You have to go find it. You have to go to the range thinking, I am going to develop a skill today. I am going to develop something that works. It's like tuning a radio. My radio was not quite right.

Your success is part of a larger story of Australians having a big impact on Tour. You guys are a tight-knit, fun-loving bunch, and you host a dinner for all the Aussies when the Tour visits your hometown of Orlando. Who wears the lampshade at the end of that evening? The lampshade? What do you mean?

It's a frat-house thing. When someone gets drunk and passes out in the corner, they put a lampshade on his head. Ah, the lampshade. No, we don't have any lampshaders. If we had the party on Friday night, you would definitely know who missed the cut. You'd have more than one or two lampshaders in an Australian party. But because we hold it early in the week, everybody keeps pretty focused.

You're a serious wine collector, with about 500 bottles in your cellar. What's the most expensive bottle you've cracked at one of your parties? Top drops? We opened a 1964 bottle of Penfold's Grange Hermitage. It was really intense, very thick and dark. I reckon it took Geoff Ogilvy two hours to drink one glass.

At the last party, my wife said, "I need a bottle of wine, what should I get?" I said, Honey, go into the cellar and on your right there are 20 or 30 or 40 bottles--grab any one. Well, instead she twisted 90 degrees to her left and grabbed two '96 Petrus. They are each probably $500 retail in the U.S. I saw one of the caddies about to open one of those bottles and I cut through the pack like a footballer, screaming, "What the hell are you doing? You can't open that!" That would have been $1,000 of wine opened way too early. I just about died.

Ashley's an Ohio girl from a traditional family. You're from the bush in Australia. Was there a culture clash?

Golf fans remember your emotional press conference at the '98 PGA, shortly after Renay was killed. They may not know that you honor her memory with the Renay Appleby Memorial Trophy, given annually to the best female junior golfer in New South Wales, where Renay grew up. How did that come to be?

You grew up on a dairy farm. How were you introduced to golf?

It's a long way from chicken rounds to Tour riches. It took you all of three months this season to win two million bucks. What do your parents back on the farm think of that?

As a kid, you excelled at the manly sport of Australian-rules football. Did you break any bones--yours or the opposition's?

Speaking of Tiger, you guys both moved to Isleworth in 1996. I'm fascinated by the culture of that community. What's it like?

With all the Tour players that live there--Tiger, Mark O'Meara, Lee Janzen, John Cook--do you ever look around and say, I have to step it up so I can keep up with the neighbors?

There has been a lot of scuttlebutt about Tiger's swing--that he has strayed from Butch Harmon's teachings and has been influenced by O'Meara and his instructor, Hank Haney. Do you see O'Meara out there fiddling with Tiger's swing?

You recently enlarged your garage. What are you rolling in these days?

How do you fit your clubs into that thing?

So, do you really race your racecar?

Your best chance to win a major was the 2002 British Open, where you shot 65 on Sunday to earn a spot in the four-hole playoff alongside Ernie Els, Thomas Levet and Steve Elkington. Do you still think about that bogey you made on the fourth hole of the playoff, which left you one back of Els and Levet, who settled matters in sudden death? not

There is so much failure in tournament golf. How do you deal with the disappointment? can

By tradition, I have to end with a wildcard question. So, which of the girls from The Simple Life--Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie--should your dad hire to help out on his dairy farm?

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