TULSA, Okla. — Graeme Storm, the 29-year-old Englishman who shot five-under 65 on Thursday, has taken an unusual path to the top of the leaderboard at the 89th PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
In 2002, he played himself off the European tour, and that led to a job that was a long way from the glamorous life of a pro golfer. For three months, he clocked in at a baking factory and jet-washed trays outside in the freezing cold for £145 [about $300] a week.
“I couldn’t see myself playing golf again, let alone leading a major,” he said Thursday after his round. “Maybe I needed a taste of reality about what life is really about. It was the kick up the backside I probably needed.”
Storm then struggled for two seasons on Europe’s Challenge Tour, winning twice before graduating back onto the main European tour in 2005.
He had a stellar amateur career, winning the British Amateur in 1999 and playing alongside Paul Casey and Luke Donald for the Walker Cup team that defeated the American amateurs that year. His mother caddied for him at the Masters before he turned pro in 2000.
Storm claimed his maiden victory on the European tour this year at the French Open, and he is 15th in the Order of Merit standings and 128th in the world rankings.
Storm has played eight weeks in a row and admits to feeling a little tired. Despite winning the French Open, he failed to qualify for Southern Hills and is here on a special invite. This is only his sixth appearance at a major championship, and he has five missed cuts. His best finish was 78th at the 2005 British Open.
Storm tees off Friday at 7:30 a.m. in the first group.
“That’s probably an advantage,” he said, “because I will get less of the heat and the best of the greens.”
Every 36-hole leader in the previous six majors held at Southern Hills has gone on to win. In the last two PGAs held here, Nick Price (’94) and Raymond Floyd (’82) pulled off wire-to-wire victories. Could it happen again?
Well, we’ve already had three surprises this year: Zach Johnson at the Masters, Angel Cabrera at the U.S. Open, and Padraig Harrington at the British Open. It’s been a strange year. It may continue.
“I always watch the leaderboards,” Storm said. “I saw Tiger was three under this morning. And I know he is now one over. The longer you stay ahead of Tiger Woods, the better,” he said, smiling.
Storm has booked a vacation next week in Las Vegas.
“Hopefully I’ll be going there with a few more dollars to play with,” he said.