Dear Stuart Appleby:
How are you? Hope this letter reaches you down on the Lamborghini farm. Sorry I haven’t written, but here’s the thing: After you won the Houston Open, you said, “This week was going to be a week where I wanted to graduate somewhere mentally.”
That was the 1999 Houston Open.
And so, after your wire-to-wire W at the ’06 Shell Houston Open last weekend, a victory so dull as to inspire fantasies of gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Enron trial, I say: It’s time to graduate somewhere mentally. It’s time you won a major—past time, actually.
You seemed happy and relieved to win Houston in ’99, but bored in ’06. (Just think of the people watching at home!) Maybe you secretly realize what is so apparent to the rest of us, that it’s cap-and-gown time.
I’ve been talking to some of your “mates,” guys like Mark Hensby and Adam Scott, asking who will become the first Down Under pro to cop a Big Four title since smooth Steve Elkington did it at the 1995 PGA.
And you know what they say?
They say it’s you, Stu, but I’ll do them one better. You’re the Best Player Never to Win a Major (BPNWM). You’ve got eight Tour victories; you’ve just ensured a multiple-win season for the first time in 11 years on Tour; you’re 34. Did you know ex-BPNWM Phil Mickelson was almost 34 when he got off the schnide? Now he’s got three majors! What will Stu do next?
Sorry, man. If you hadn’t won Houston again I’d still be overlooking you, because nabbing a tournament every year, or other year, is a surefire way to stay sub-radar—your yellow Lambo notwithstanding. You even blended in at the Presidents Cup last September. That crazy look on Chris DiMarco’s face said, “Hide the kids and mind your fingers and toes.” The look on your face—wait, you were at the Presidents Cup? Oh, right! You were the guy he beat, 1-up.
Stuart, you could have made a career out of your Mercedes Championship annuity, three years running, but no. You had to go and keep winning. Now we, your pals in the press, can’t help but conclude that it’s your time. Phil can’t win every big event; Vijay’s looking a little long of tooth; Retief needs a W to validate recent swing changes; Tiger’s attending to his bungee-jumping, speed-freak caddie (and Dad, Earl); and Ernie’s still not totally right in the knee.
Which reminds me, Stuart, you’ve got a score to settle. It’s true that you’ve hardly peaked at the right times, with 15 missed cuts in 37 major starts. But you came close at the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, shooting a Sunday 65 to get into a four-man playoff with Els, Elkington and Thomas Levet, but bogeying the fourth and final hole to lose. The British is the big one you’ve played the best, notching T11 and T15 finishes in 2000 and 2003, respectively. You just notched your first top-20 at the Masters. The U.S. Open at super-sized Winged Foot will require some gargantuan drives, and you’re long. In fact, thanks to CBS’s super-slow motion photography we see that your swing is so solid, with so few moving parts, it recalls two-time Open winner Goosen’s action circa Southern Hills and Shinnecock. And hey, you’ll have as good a vibe as anyone at ye auld Royal Liverpool Golf Club, home of the 135th British Open this summer, since the place hasn’t hosted an Open since 1967. Relax, dude. Roberto de Vicenzo can’t defend—he’s not playing this year. One less player to beat!
Okay, maybe you knew that, but maybe not. I started having my doubts when we spoke at the Buick Invitational in San Diego a few months ago, and you guessed that a pound of organic coffee beans from Starbucks would go for $250 (GOLF Magazine, May). Maybe you were joking, since every stupid question deserves a stupid answer, and you don’t drink coffee, but hello? Get thee to a grocery store! You seem capable of deep thoughts, at least for a golfer. At the ’99 Houston Open, you said, “it’s not just a golf game that makes you win a tournament. Probably 25% of the package is actually your golf. The other 75% is what you think about your golf or what you think about yourself or what you think about winning or losing or pressure or no pressure.” Are you thinking what I’m thinking? It’s time to graduate, Stuart, and you’re most likely to succeed. In other words, there’s a new BPNWM in town, and you’re it.
Good luck with that.
p.s. Can I have your next Mercedes?
Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at [email protected].