Simon Dyson column: Surfing St Andrews & 'belter' celebs

Simon Dyson on surfing St Andrews, 'belter' celebs & racing Rory to Dunhill glory.

Charlie Lemay's picture
Fri, 25 Sep 2015

What do Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Steve Redgrave, Hugh Grant and surfer Kelly Slater have in common?

The answer is they have all been my playing partners in the Dunhill Links.

The pro-am event played over St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns is quite different to anything we play.

It's like another major - I absolutely love it. It's not quite the BMW PGA, but it’s pretty close. I managed to win it in 2009 and I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was some of the best golf I've ever played.

Related: Shooting St Andrews - an Open photographer's view

Most weeks it is three balls with fellow pros, and then all of a sudden you're partnered with big-name celebrities and prominent amateurs. You just hope they play well, which can make you a bit more relaxed as you're not just thinking about yourself.

The year I won my partner was Slater, who has won the ASP World Tour 11 times. He's a good player - his handicap was two - and we finished third in the team event. 

The worst thing about the event is rounds take between five-and-a-half and six hours. However, if you get a good partner - and I've had some belters - you're not too bothered because they keep you entertained.

The celebs are all so happy to be there, they just enjoy it - you don't see any temper tantrums or anything. I'd love to play with Shane Warne. I've played a few times with him before, and we keep saying we'd like to compete together.

I've always wanted to play with Jamie Redknapp as well, but he's normally with Luke Donald. One year Luke texted me saying he couldn't play and asked if I'd like to play with Jamie, which I jumped at. We couldn't get it fixed in time, unfortunately. 

Related: Day in the life - Luke Donald's caddie John McLaren

I normally stay in Dundee in the week to stay away from everything. With all the celebrities about it's too easy to be tempted to go out and have some drinks. We don't see them through the week, just when we play, although we might have a bite to eat afterwards. 

You play three fantastic golf courses in Carnoustie, St Andrews and Kingsbarns. I'd never get sick of playing those three courses with that kind of atmosphere. Carnoustie is the hardest course overall. St Andrews and Kingsbarns will offer up scores in the low 60s on a calm day, but if the weather turns they can play just as hard as Carnoustie. 

Related: Ken Brown's keys to the Old Course

It’s hard to tell who’s playing well early on, as the top of the leaderboard will be riddled with players who compete on the same course, while someone on another course may post a great score but they’ll be way down the leaderboard. 

When I won, there was Donald, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke all up there before the final round. I got off to an unbelievable start on the Old Course, sinking six birdies in seven holes. All of a sudden I knew if I played steady golf I'd win the tournament. 

Related: Rory McIlroy - $1 off Tiger means more than $10m for FedEx Cup 

I was in what athletes call “the zone”. It was just one of those days, everything I looked at was going in.

McIlroy, who was runner-up, came up to me on the eighth green and looked at my score and said "Bloody hell, Dys, calm down will you?" He found it funny, because my start was ridiculous. During the round, I didn’t take much notice of Rory despite his charge, I was so focused on my game. Afterwards, he congratulated me on an awesome round of golf. 

Related: St Andrews area golf guide

The 13th and 17th holes were the only holes I was worried about. On the Road Hole, I aimed my drive way left and tried to play a big cut, but I nutted it straight. I had a shocking lie and said to my caddie I was just going to chip out, but I caught a flier and thought "oh no, that needs to sit down".

Luckily it stopped 10 yards short of the road. I managed to escape with a bogey. I was four ahead at that point, so it was just a case of "don't card a triple".

It was one of the only UK tournaments my parents hadn't travelled to watch me compete in. They were gutted to miss it, but we can laugh about it now. 

To celebrate, I went for a couple of beers with Kelly. I wanted to stay out but I had a flight booked and my wife - who was my fiancee then - was really looking forward to me coming home. 

I'd won three times before, but it was nice to win in Britain. I won in Asia four times, and people said I couldn't win in Europe. Then I won in Holland twice, on the same course, so people said I could only win on that track – you can’t please everybody! So it was nice to prove people wrong, and it was fortunate it was a big tournament. 

I played in the 1999 Walker Cup at Nairn alongside the likes of Luke and Paul Casey, and turned professional immediately afterwards. It’s hard to make the adjustment – it’s so different. The courses the pros play are so hard, they're very intimidating, especially for the new players. Then there's more media to deal with, and bigger crowds.

You come off a massive high of playing the Walker Cup, and then you're worrying for your livelihood. The best thing the players who turned pro after the recent Walker Cup could do is not worry about it, just enjoy themselves. There's no pressure from anyone, no expectations, no one thinks you're going to be the next McIlroy. Now is their chance to earn some money from the game.

Related: Walker Cup yearbook - stars as fresh-faced amateurs

I didn't qualify for the European Tour straight away. Instead, I went and played in Asia, which was a blessing in disguise as I learned so much. I wasn't chucked in the deep end, and while I wasn't in the shallow end, I was in the middle where I could still find my feet. The Asian Tour is a challenge, but nothing too hard, and I was able to flourish and I won the Asian Order of Merit in 2000.

I played in Asia for five months, and came back to Europe because Chubby Chandler had got me some invites. He set up practice rounds with Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood to get me settled in.

The only time I was star struck was playing in Holland when I made the cut and you had to ring up for a Saturday tee time. I called and said "seven under, Simon Dyson" and they said "you're out a 2.36 with Lee Westwood" and I thought "brilliant". And then she said "and Padraig Harrington". Then I realised it was three balls and I started to get really excited. I played well, tieing with Lee and beating Padraig.  

Related: FedEx Cup scenarios - who needs to do what to win?

The current battle at the top of the world rankings is fascinating and choosing a Player of the Year on the PGA Tour is so tough this year. Jordan Spieth has done unbelievable, but if I was voting I'd pick Jason Day.  They've both won majors, both been world number one, both won multiple tournaments.

I haven't met Jordan, but I've met Jason and he's one of the nicest lads you'll ever know, so I'd go for him.

Got a question for Simon on any aspect of Tour life or golf in general? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and we will put the best to him next month.



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