Following his win in the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, what better time to re-visit an interview we did with Oliver Wilson early in 2010?
Read his thoughts on English golf, Sir Nick Faldo and what he planned to treat himself to when he finally bagged his first European Tour title...
You have been doing well in America the past few weeks and I believe you’re spending a few months out there. How are you enjoying it so far?
Yeah, it’s going well. Golf-wise, it’s been steady. I feel like I’ve been playing better than my results would suggest. I’m definitely playing well enough to compete each week, which is good. My girlfriend is American, too, so it’s nice to have the chance to catch up with her family and, obviously, the weather is pretty good. It’s been nice to get away from the snow and ice and so on.
How much does it differ from playing on the European Tour?
It differs a lot on different levels. For me, the biggest difference is the atmosphere and, I hate to say it, the hassle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good kind of hassle but the events are so much bigger in the US. There are more fans, security is a real issue and it just seems to take so much longer to get things done because of all of the faffing around that you have. In fact, if you’re not a member of the PGA Tour, it can even be a hassle trying to get into the courses! It’s so full on and that can get frustrating. I like the fact that, in Europe, things are simpler, it’s more relaxed, everyone knows everyone and all of that. I mean, in the Honda Classic, there were so many guys in the field that I’d never heard of or seen before. I was stood on the range and I didn’t have a clue who some of the people were.
Could you envisage playing a full schedule over there, or does the hassle that you mentioned put you off?
It does put me off a bit. But, at the same time, if I was to join the tour, there wouldn’t be half as much bother as there is just now. In terms of playing a full schedule, yeah, I do see myself playing a full season over there at some stage. I just don’t know when. I’d like to give it a go but, at the same time, I love playing in Europe and I want to be a worldwide player. That could be tricky, of course, and it would become a bit of a balancing act but other guys have done it and I feel that I can do it, too. I also reckon that, if I did play more on the PGA Tour, I could be successful doing it. The courses suit me better there. I did well in college in the US and my results there as a pro have been good. So, the confidence is there; it’s just a matter of deciding what is the best thing to do long-term. I mean, I haven’t won yet - which is something I want to put right sooner rather than later - and I think that it’s a bit trickier to win in America than in Europe, and I’d love to win the Race to Dubai as well, so maybe I need to do that first before I think about coming over to the US.
English players are doing exceptionally well on the PGA Tour at the moment. Why do you think things have suddenly picked up for you all over there?
I dunno. I don’t really see us playing that much better than we have done in the past few years, to be honest. I think Poults’ win in the Matchplay just sort of brought us more to the front of people’s attention. Obviously, Lee had an amazing year last year, as did Paul and Ross and I’ve been right on the edge the past couple of years, too. Maybe we’re all just peaking at the same time, as opposed to previous seasons where we haven’t all played well at the same time. European golf being so strong and dominating Americans at the moment, also probably helps highlight it.
"There are only four, there’s a lot of pressure, everyone wants to win, and you’ve got the best players competing."
Whilst you guys have done well, others like Greg Owen and Kenny Ferrie seem to have slipped off the radar over here. Is that a worry for you? That if things should go a bit pear-shaped you could go the same way as them?
Well, I think that, if you’re going to split your time between two tours, you need to play exceptionally well in the events you play to be at the top of each order of merit. If you have a poor start, you’ve got a lot of work to do and you can quite easily finish 30th on both money lists and, suddenly, you’ve not had a very good year. I mean, I want to win the European Tour and PGA Tour Order of Merits and that’s why it’s a process that’s going to take a lot of thought. If you look at the greats from Europe in the past, they’ve kind of dominated in Europe first and then come over to the States and done well. Whether that’s the right thing to do now, I don’t know. Obviously, there are more events now which count on both tours, which you never used to have, so world golf has changed and there is almost a world golf tour, without it being called as such. But, at the end of the day, if you play well, wherever you play, everything else will take care of itself.
Everyone is saying this is going to be the year that an English golfer finally wins a major again and you’ve been mentioned as one of the guys who could break that duck. How does that feel?
It feels good. I’ve actually felt as though I could be a contender in majors for the past few years and, this year, I’m playing better than I’ve ever played. So, it’s nice to get recognition and be considered one of the English or European guys capable of winning a major. I mean, even though I haven’t yet won an event, I do feel as though my first win could be a major.
Why do you think it has been so long since an English golfer won a major? Does it have anything to do with a big shadow being cast by Nick Faldo?
Nah, I don’t think so. It’s hard to say. Obviously, Tiger has won quite a few of them over the past few years but, saying that, there haven’t been many English guys in contention when Woods has won so it’s hard to blame him. Majors are hard. There are only four, there’s a lot of pressure, everyone wants to win, and you’ve got the best players competing, so you need to peak at the right time. One mistake and you could be out of it and that can be tough to take. But, no, I don’t think it’s got too much to do with Faldo.
Speaking of Sir Nick, you played under him in the last Ryder Cup. To us, it seemed like he didn’t exactly treat you all that fairly. Looking back on it now, how do you feel about it?
I was really disappointed. I’d played well enough to qualify for the team without having to rely on a pick. I’d earned the right to be there. Fair enough, I’m the first to admit I would probably have come down near the bottom of the pecking order in terms of the players on that team. But, that being said, I felt like I was playing well and my game is suited to foursomes, so I genuinely thought I would play in them. I think everybody on the team thought that, too. We all know each others’ games and I thought Nick would have known everybody’s strengths and weaknesses but I don’t feel like he knew mine at all. So, it was a disappointment not to play on the first day. You get all up for it and you’re in the middle of this thing you’ve wanted to play in for years and then, like that, you’re not involved, it’s a big anti-climax and the Ryder Cup doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would.
You picked yourself up, though, and the way you played in the foursomes the next day suggested that you should have maybe played on the first day, too.
Yeah, well, I get on great with Henrik and I knew we’d be a good combination. After six holes, though, with Phil and AK having built a big lead, I remember thinking: “Hmmm, this is isn’t going to plan.” But we did what we needed to do in matchplay which is keep on applying the pressure. Against those two, you can either get blown away or win. They’re gung-ho and go at everything, so we fancied that they’d give us a few holes and we managed to get right back in it and, of course, win when I holed that putt. So, that was a massive high but it was followed again by another little bit of a low to find out that I wasn’t playing in the afternoon. Actually, I found out on the 15th that I wasn’t in. I overheard another of the caddies telling Fanny the afternoon pairings and my name wasn’t mentioned.
You found out you’d been dropped whilst in the middle of a match?
Yeah, it was a bit of a downer but I just had to get on with it. But I guess it does kind of explain why my reaction to holing the winning putt on the 17th was quite excitable, shall we say!
"I think one of the greatest things in golf must be walking up the 17th and 18th at St Andrews leading the Open and playing in front of those huge crowds."
Presumably, then, one of your goals for the season will be to get into Colin Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup team.
Yeah, I really want to be on it. I think I’m far better than I was then so it’s a massive goal of mine to make Monty’s team. Qualifying for a Ryder Cup is a huge achievement. I mean, it’s the third biggest sporting event in the world, isn’t it? It’s amazing to be part of and I want to be there. I think Colin will be a fantastic captain, too. He knows all of the players well, he knows everybody’s games and he’s a lot more in touch with everyone.
What is your relationship like with Monty? Do you get on well?
Yeah, we get on. We always stop to speak and I think pretty much all of the players would agree that he’s a top bloke. He gets a hard time but he’s a great guy. Very down to earth and funny, too. Being on his team in Wales would be brilliant.
There’s a lot of golf to be played between now and the Ryder Cup, including your first St Andrews Open. Are you looking forward to that?
I can’t wait. This is a great year for majors but St Andrews is the one I’m most looking forward to. I think one of the greatest things in golf must be walking up the 17th and 18th at St Andrews leading the Open and playing in front of those huge crowds. That’s got to be as good as it gets.
This is your sixth year as a pro. How would you assess your career to date?
I’m relatively happy with what I’ve achieved so far. Right now, a win is the only thing that I’m missing. I’ve played the Ryder Cup; now, I want some tournament victories. When my career is over, I want to be remembered. I don’t just want people to think: “Oh, Oliver Wilson, he was alright, I guess.” I want to leave my mark on the game. Yeah, there’s a long way to go but if I can keep taking little steps each year, then at some stage I’m going to have a few really big years.
How much of an issue was the grooves rule change for you? Did you have to put in some extra work with the guys at Callaway to deal with it?
Not really. After Dubai, I put my clubs away for two months and just took some time out to relax. It’s something I’d never done up until then, so I decided to take the opportunity whilst I had it and left the clubs in the bag for five to six weeks. I only got the new grooves at Christmas and I took them out to Dubai before Abu Dhabi to practice. I think taking time off actually helped me get used to them because I wasn’t coming off a stretch of three or four weeks playing with other clubs and the new grooves being a big departure from them. Because of that, I didn’t really notice too much difference, to tell the truth.
What did you make of the guys who played the old Ping Eye-2 wedges?
Well, I think Phil Mickelson was using them as a bit of a platform to say: “You know what? This isn’t quite right.” I didn’t realise that at the time and I felt it was wrong. Okay, it was legal and they weren’t breaking any rules but, ethically, I felt it was wrong and I think something should have been done to avoid it being exploited in the first place.
Are you much of a tinkerer when it comes to your golf gear?
Nah, not anymore. When I first got on tour, I did because you could grab all the latest gear every week and who’s not going to take advantage of that? But I quickly realised that that’s quite stupid.
What about off the course: we hear you’re a bit of a DIY buff?
Yeah, my dad was a builder so I like making things and doing a bit of DIY. Am I any good at it? I’d like to say so but it depends who you ask. But yeah, I quite enjoy that kind of thing.
How else do you like to unwind?
I like to get away on holiday as much as I can. If I’m in the States, I love to get out on the water. My girlfriend’s parents live by a lake, so we take the boat out and go water-skiing and wake-boarding quite a lot. And in the winter, I love to ski. It’s probably my greatest passion. I used to go a lot when I was younger but I gave it up for a few years when golf got serious. However, this winter, I couldn’t take it anymore and I had to get back out there, so my girlfriend and I went to Val d’Isere. She’d never been skiing before but she fell in love with it and we’re right now trying to work out when we can go back.
You like your fast cars, too, don’t you?
Yeah, you could say that. I’m not as big on them as some of the other guys on tour but I’ve got a Porsche 996 Turbo just now and I’m not going to pretend I don’t enjoy it. I’m holding out for something new when I finally win, though: an Aston Martin DBS. That’s what I’ve wanted for a long time and I think it would be a nice way to reward myself for winning.
Oliver Wilson in bunkered
This interview with Oliver Wilson first appeared in issue 98 of bunkered (published: April 2010)