Committed. That’s a good word to describe David Drysdale.
East Lothian legend has it that, in his youth, ‘Double D’ would regularly skip school to go and play golf at his local course, Dunbar. That’s how determined he was to make his living from the game.
Resilient. That’s another.
Since his debut in the 1999 Scottish PGA, Drysdale has clocked up almost 500 European Tour starts, enduring all kinds of ups and downs along the way. From being the highest ranked Scot on the world rankings to suffering the anguish of losing his card by little more than £400, the story of his career wouldn’t look out of place amidst the rollercoasters of Alton Towers.
In this interview, first published in bunkered in October 2019, he discusses his career to date, his incredible love affair with South Africa, what it’s like to have his wife caddie for him, and his dream of finally winning on the European Tour…
It’s 20 years since you played in your first European Tour event. What is the biggest change now compared with when you joined?
The age of everybody. Definitely. When I first came out, I was 25 or 26 and that was regarded as young. I was hanging about with Andrew Oldcorn and Gordon Brand Jnr, guys who were, at that time, in their late thirties or early forties. There just wasn’t that many 22 or 23-year-olds. The occasional superstar came along but that was about it. Now, though, it seems like everyone is under 25. They’ve effectively been playing professional golf, even though they’ve still been amateurs, from their mid-teens, which is something I never did. I didn’t really have much of an amateur career. I worked in the pro shop at Dunbar from the age of 16 to 21. It’s like they are at 22 what I was at 29 or 30.
The tour itself must look pretty different now, too?
Absolutely. Obviously, Keith Pelley’s done a pretty good job, introducing things like the Rolex Series and a few other funky events, like the GolfSixes and the Super 6s in Perth. It’s all good. Yeah, it’s nice to have some different formats and styles every so often. But it’s funny, in my first few years, I think we had something like a dozen events in the UK and Ireland and seven in Spain. Now, obviously, you’ve got to travel further afield and go to places like the Far East, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. To begin with, that was condensed into something like three months of the year. Now, it’s at around seven. It’s the European Tour in name only these days.
Do you enjoy the travel?
Well, I like avoiding Scotland from November through to March. If I’m absolutely honest, we played at Hillside for the British Masters in May and, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great course and they did a fine job setting it up, but it was probably around a month from being ready. So, if you want the sort of standard of conditions that we play almost week in, week out, the UK is almost a no-no until June.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. You’ve yet to win on the European Tour. How much does that frustrate you?
Yeah, I’ve had my chances but it’s difficult. You’ve got to play extremely well – and putt extremely well – to even have a sniff of a win these days because the calibre of everyone is so high. I mean, what is it I’ve had, three runner-up finishes? Something like that? So, yeah, some close calls. So much of it is luck, too. I’ve had a couple of freak things happen to me, like guys holing 60-footers down the stretch and so on. You can feel like you’re a bit hard done to but, ultimately, you’ve just got to keep giving yourself the chance.
How do you think you’ll look back on your career if you don’t manage to knock off that win?
It’s a career I’ll still be proud of but the win is definitely something I’m striving for every day. But like I say, it’s tough. If you look at, as an example, Stephen Gallacher’s win in India earlier this year. Don’t get me wrong, he played great those last nine holes but a couple of guys really crumbled, which obviously helped his case. That’s something I’ve never had happen to me and I’m not taking anything away from Stevie at all. I know how difficult it is to win because I haven’t. But it would have been nice to have that fall in my favour maybe once or twice over the years. Look at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, where I was second. The last hole there can be anything from eagle to double-bogey. If David Lipsky had nudged it in the water down there, I’d have been picking up the trophy – but he didn’t. It hasn’t quite happened but there’s still time.
Your record in South Africa is remarkable. You’ve played over 50 events there and had some superb results. What is it about the country that brings out the best in you?
I really don’t know. It definitely helps that I love the courses. I mean, Leopard Creek has got to be right up there as one of the best that we play the whole year, without a doubt. I hit the ball fairly straight and I’m not the longest now compared with some of these young kids but driving accuracy and greens in regulation is pretty much my game and that course, in particular, rewards that.
Your wife Vicky caddies for you. How did that all come about?
If I’m absolutely honest, I didn’t think she’d be able to do it. I’d been out here for years and had had loads of different caddies. The way it came about, it was December 2016 and the caddie I had at the time was ill and took a couple of weeks off, so Vicky said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I had a good week at Leopard Creek and I noticed that having Vicky there really made me focus my mind on what I was doing because she was just starting out and, obviously, didn’t really know about the really intricate stuff like different weather conditions, altitude, wind direction, choosing clubs and so on. So, I was really focused, which was great because I’d got into a situation where I was probably a little too reliant on some of my caddies. You know, their information, their input. I guess I just found myself becoming a bit lazy, whereas with Vicky, I couldn’t be that way and she really got into it, too. It just instantly worked. I tried a couple of other guys at the start of 2017 but quickly found myself falling back into bad habits, so I suggested to Vicky she take it on full-time. Then of course came the French, Irish, Scottish and British where I played great, so it’s all continued from that. She’s great.
It must be a different dynamic having your wife on the bag?
Absolutely. You know, it’s funny, when you’re paying a guy, they can become a little bit scared to give you a kick up the arse or maybe don’t want to speak up and give you a talking-to when you need it, but with Vicky there’s none of that. She’ll say, ‘Come on, you’re acting like a baby, pull the finger out’. There’s just total trust and total honesty without the fear of reprisals. This is now her third season and, yeah, she’s arguably even more desperate to get that win than me. I think that, if and when we do, she’ll probably jack it in. I mean, it can be tough going for her. Some weeks are great because the courses are pretty flat but you look at somewhere like Himmerland [host of the Made In Denmark] and it’s just mountainous. It’s bad enough when you’re just walking after your ball but when you’re carrying twenty kilos on your back and it’s blowing a gale or chucking it down, it’s not easy. But she manages fine.
A lot of players have spoken about the loneliness of life on tour. Does it help having Vicky with you week to week?
Yeah, looking back, it kind of got to the point around 2007 or 2008 that we weren’t really seeing each other. She was working full-time and I was playing week after week after week. I’d go home on the Sunday night and then be away again on the Monday night or Tuesday morning. So, it wasn’t ideal and eventually I just said to her, ‘Look, why don’t you try travelling with me for a little bit and see how you like it?’ So, she’d been around the tour and travelling with me for a good decade or so before she started to caddie. The only real difference now is that, rather than spending five hours away from each other with me on the course and her going to one of the ladies’ days, we’re working together. It’s been great. Obviously, we have our moments but for the most part it’s brilliant.
Is it ever hard for you both to switch off from golf?
Not at all. That’s one thing we do really well. You know, we’ll head out to practise early doors, put a shift in and be out of it at half-one or two in the afternoon. That’ll typically be the last we talk about golf until we’re back at it the next day. We’ve got enough stuff going on without golf.
Let’s talk about Scottish golf. There has been years and years of criticism of the state of our game at the top level. What’s your take?
You know, before this year, for the last sort of ten years, there’s not really been anybody new that’s come out and kept their card. Scott Jamieson would probably be the last one before this year and there was Richie [Ramsay] a few years before him. I know there were people who liked to write a lot about the average age of the Scots on the European Tour being, what was it, 38 or something? From that point of view, it wasn’t a great situation but I kept saying to people that we had guys like Connor Syme and Scott Henry – talented, talented guys – who just maybe needed a bit of luck. It’s not enough to be good anymore. You need to be great. And golf’s just part of it. You’ve got to get to grips with managing your life, managing your travel, managing your money. There’s a lot to it.
Things have improved this year, wouldn’t you say?
It’s obviously been nice to see the guys this year making a big impression. I mean, Bob MacIntyre looks like the real deal. Grant [Forrest], what a technique he’s got. His clubhead speed is scary. It’s Rory McIlroy stuff. Then you’ve David Law winning in Australia. Sam Locke looks like an exciting prospect. So, you consider all of that and suddenly it looks quite good. I remember Scott [Jamieson] making a really good point not that long ago when he said that, per head of population, Scotland does better than England on the European Tour. We’ve got a population of five-and-a-half million. They’ve got 55 million. But it’s not like they’ve got ten times more golfers out here than us. So there are different ways of looking at it.
Do you see yourself as something of a big brother to the young guys coming through?
Not really. I speak to them and I see them out here all the time but I’m 44 and they’re 22, 23. We’re a generation apart. But it’s great to see them doing so well. I’m sure they’ve got big careers in front of them.
What about your own career? How do you see the rest of it panning out?
I really don’t know. I’ll play out here for as long as I can. That’s the plan. I’ll try to stay injury-free. I’ve got my card done and dusted for next year. Really, for me, it’s just about constantly trying to play better and hopefully win a tournament. A few tournaments, ideally! Beyond that, I’ve not really thought hugely far ahead.
Would you consider the senior tour?
You know, I looked at a Staysure Tour leaderboard recently and thought it would be quite cool to be out there and reunite with the guys who were on tour when I first joined, but I don’t know. I’d quite like to pack in in, too, if I’m honest. There’s a lot of stuff you have to do behind the scenes to keep your game in shape. Physio and all that stuff. People say, ‘Ah but you only play 28 weeks of the year, that means you’ve got 22 off’. But there’s no time off. You’re doing something almost every single day. That’s the sacrifice you have to make to compete and stay at as high a level as you can. So, like I say, I’ll keep going as long as I’ve got my card. After that, who knows? But hopefully I don’t need to think about that for a few years yet.
Subscribe to bunkered
For more content like this, subscribe to bunkered today. Click here for details of our latest offer.