08 Dec 2012
He’d just made two bogeys in his last four holes to fall back to three under par for the first 54-holes of this Australian Open, but Stuart Appleby wasn’t complaining. In fact, he was smiling. Which was understandable, given the stark contrast between his steady play so far this week and the horror show that has been the precipitous decline in the 2001 champion’s golfing fortunes over the last two years. Not so long ago a fixture in the world’s top-20 players, the 41-year old - nine times a winner on the PGA Tour – arrived at The Lakes as the 442nd best golfer on the planet.
Other numbers are just as startling. Since winning the 2010 Greenbrier Classic, Appleby has failed to play four rounds in as many as 26 of his 55 appearances on the PGA Tour. Not surprisingly, his earnings have plummeted. Only just over $1m of the $26,757, 857 (nineteenth all-time) he has picked up on the world’s most lucrative circuit was banked in 2011 and ’12. In the last two seasons he has managed only one top-ten finish; this year, his best effort was a T-16 at the Reno-Tahoe Open.
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“My swing started to deteriorate early 2011,” he said. “I think I was protecting my (ailing) back. My swing started to get flat. It did not cause any pain but late last year in Australia it went. Mentally I was just toast. I was frustrated.”
Still, while things haven’t exactly been going to plan for some time now, Appleby is a long way from throwing in the proverbial towel. Much work has been going on behind the scenes, on both his physical and mental well-being. And, three times a winner of the PGA Tour’s season-opening Mercedes Championships in breezy Hawaii, he is enjoying the blustery conditions here at The Lakes more than most.
“I'm hitting it better,” he claimed. “I hit it really well yesterday. I feel like I am coming back. I'd love to have made more progress a while back. You have to be patient. That is the beauty of this game. You have no real time period.
“My game is definitely on the uptake. Mentally I have really struggled for the last year or more, nearly two years, to believe in myself and believe all the great things I have done, that I was that person. If you struggle with your self-belief, you are going to struggle with your scorecard. I have been working very hard on that.
“Today I was trying to get really comfortable. I have not made a lot of cuts. You'd think a guy with my experience and wins would not find making the cut a nice thing. You just take it for granted to play on the weekend. Being up there now is something new. I feel that I am re-learning.”
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As was obvious from the rapidity with which Appleby’s thoughts tumbled from his mouth, the improvement he could feel in his game and fortunes had him more than a little excited. Which was nice to see in a man who has known great misfortune in his personal life (his first wife, Renay, was tragically killed by a reversing taxi just outside Waterloo station in London in July 1998). Certainly, he is far from walking away from the game that has been his life.
“Of course, giving up crossed my mind,” admitted the father-of-four. “But that thought lasted only a minute or so. There is so much more out there for me. This is just a test. I know I have the talent and resources and willpower and I can't wait for my next victory. No, I can wait and I’m very willing to do that.”
One more day might just be all it takes.