Getting to the Point With Stuart Appleby

Getting to the Point With Stuart Appleby

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? Before I met her I was much quieter, much more of a one-word-sentence guy. Ashley was a communications major (at Mount Union College in Ohio). She was all about talking and communicating and e-mailing and writing cards, so there was a big difference. But we share a great vigor for life. We wake up, ready to take on the day, and we go to bed ready to take on the next day.

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? Renay and I met through golf, and it felt like the right legacy. The award has really become a big deal for junior golfers in Australia. It’s not just about hitting a golf ball, shooting the lowest scores. It’s about good citizenship and respecting the integrity of the game. I don’t have a direct say in the selection process but it is a great honor to be involved with the award and to give something back to Australian golf. And, of course, it’s a wonderful way to honor Renay, her – spirit and her love for the game.

You grew up on a dairy farm. How were you introduced to golf? There was no golf in our background but both my parents were great at sports, and one day they decided to get golf lessons. I would say, “Hey Mum, what are they teaching you? What are you doing?” Mum would remember much better than Dad, so basically I would follow Mum and copy her. Within two years, when I was 14, I was totally hooked and had to hit golf balls every day. I would hit balls from one paddock of our farm to the next. I’d find a paddock with shorter grass, so I’d lose fewer balls. I would mow a patch 10 foot by 10 foot, and I would use one of those little bicycle flags. I would hit the ball toward that. It was so quiet out there, so peaceful. I miss those days.

We use to play something called the chicken round. We’d play once a week in the late afternoon. If you won, you’d get a chicken and a bottle of Spumante, a cheap, sh–ty wine. We opened a few bottles of the Spumante one Christmas and they were rancid. But we always ate the chickens.

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? We never talk about money or the success of golf. My mum and dad are just like every parent–they think their son or daughter is the best thing in the world, but they totally keep away from all of the hoopla. They are just reclusive, quiet, thankful.

As a kid, you excelled at the manly sport of Australian-rules football. Did you break any bones–yours or the opposition’s? I sprained a few thumbs and bent a few fingers backward. I always remember my mum saying that if I got in a fight she would drag me off the field herself. I was always Mr. Calm. I got pushed around a lot, but I just ignored it — focused on the game, focused on the ball.

Aussie-rules football and golf are very different, but every sport demands concentration, the correct thought process and a positive attitude. I think that a good athlete in one sport could succeed in any other. Any football or hockey player could play golf on the PGA Tour. I think Michael Jordan could have done really well in other sports, I think Tiger could have done well in other sports.

Speaking of Tiger, you guys both moved to Isleworth in 1996. I’m fascinated by the culture of that community. What’s it like? People always say to me, “Oh, you live where Tiger Woods lives.” I say, “No, he lives where I live.” The club’s actually really relaxed. Their policy is that members are not to harass the athletes or the movie stars. Anyone who chats to you is very polite: “Hey, play well, good luck.”

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? I think there is a degree of envy, but envy is a good thing. It’s a motivator. We all envy Tiger. Of course, there are things about his life we don’t envy. He can’t order a burger at a restaurant without someone coming up and tapping him on the shoulder. By the way, did you know there’s an Appleby Burger on the menu at Isleworth? Everyone’s got something. There’s even an O’Meara Wrap. My burger is a big patty with lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, a fried egg and sauteed onions. And it’s a big dirty mother of a patty, something you could choke a goat on. No one is too pretentious at Isleworth. When we come through those gates- actually, a lot of us don’t leave those gates that much — we do the usual things you’ve got to do when you come home. The sh–ter breaks down, call in the plumbing man, get your sh–ter fixed.

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? Mark and Tiger hang out like they’re attached by an umbilical cord. They both give each other lessons. I think Mark says, “You should do this a little more.” Or Tiger says, “Can you come check this?” I know they spend a lot of time playing practice rounds. But I don’t see Mark scrutinizing Tiger’s every swing. They’re both hitting balls, working on their game.

You recently enlarged your garage. What are you rolling in these days? I just purchased a Lamborghini Gallardo. That is the V10, 500-horsepower, four-wheel-drive. I got that baby up to 150 at Sebring (Raceway). I have a BMW M5 that I spent some time tuning, Ashley has a X5 4.6, so I am a BMW boy. I have a racecar M3. Having won the Mercedes, I guess I have a Mercedes I could potentially go and pick up as well. I haven’t bothered with that ’cause I don’t have the garage finished. It will be a three-car garage, and we are definitely going to have that thing full.

I couldn’t believe how much attention the Lambo got (at the Bay Hill Invitational in March). Well, I guess it is yellow. I call it indiscreet yellow. I think there were a few guys who wanted to talk to their wives about splitting with a bit of cash for one of those. I paid full sticker ($177,200). No discount on a car like that.

How do you fit your clubs into that thing? My answer to that is: I don’t give a sh-t.

So, do you really race your racecar? Once in a while at the track, just for fun. At 12 years old I used to love driving cars around the farm–trucks and tractors too. I always had dirty hands, grease on the fingers. It’s in my blood. I have a dream race that I would love to do: The Tiger Tasmania back in Australia. It’s with professional drivers and they drive street cars through the beautiful hills of Tasmania. Maybe when I get older and my schedule lightens up a bit.

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? I wish I could have that shot back, that little knockdown 5-iron. (Playing the par-4 18th, Appleby found a bunker with his approach and made bogey.) I look back and I practice that shot quite a lot. It was a negative thing, but in a way it was positive because it drove me to understand what I need to do to get to the next level. This is what the best players do. You have to turn it around, say, Righto, let’s not do that again.

There is so much failure in tournament golf. How do you deal with the disappointment? We think we can control the ball like it’s on a yo-yo string, but there are constant disappointments. The one thing that you can control is your attitude. That is the hardest thing to grasp. The best players have the resilience–an attitude that I’m working on, because I’m planning for something bigger than what I have done.

As far as the British Open, I tried to evaluate the day and, yes, I was disappointed. But I wasn’t heartbroken, I wasn’t shattered, because you know what? It was a step. Just like Phil at The Masters–the had so many opportunities where he had not pulled through, but when he got near the lead at Augusta he had a game plan. That’s the way golf is–it creates more mistakes than it does successes. What you do with your mistakes can create future success. The hard times can drive you. Fear can drive you to do better.

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? My dad would not hire either of them, I guarantee it. He’s a no-nonsense guy. I reckon he would not even hire me.

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