Oliver Wilson on fighting back, LIV Golf fears and holding back tears

Former European Ryder Cup player and two-time DP World Tour winner Oliver Wilson speaks exclusively to GolfMagic Editor Andy Roberts ahead of The Open at Royal Liverpool.

Andy Roberts's picture
Tue, 18 Jul 2023
Oliver Wilson on fighting back, LIV Golf fears and holding back tears

The road back to the winner's circle hasn't been an easy one for former European Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson, but it's been more than worth the wait. 

After wrapping up an emotional second win in Denmark on the DP World Tour less than 12 months ago (his first in seven years) and following it up with a tie for second on home soil at the British Masters earlier this month, which qualified him for this week's 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, there was a glint in the eye of the 42-year-old when speaking to us about his mini resurgence on the DP World Tour. 

"My game is probably in as good a shape as it's been in many a year, if not ever really," Wilson told GolfMagic Editor Andy Roberts, after kindly sneaking us into the Players Lounge at Royal Liverpool. 

"The tie for second at The Belfry was very satisfying. It was disappointing to not win given I felt like I played well enough to have won but I just made a few too many mistakes out there with four three-putts on Sunday, and a couple of silly mistakes earlier in the week, but that happens. 

"Dan [Hillier] played great, his finish [eagle-birdie-eagle on 15, 16 and 17] was incredible. It was a great week though and I was delighted to finish second, especially to birdie the last hole. I think if I'd missed that putt on 18 then I'd have been pretty disappointed, so to get into The Open this week off the back of that finish was just another bonus.

"I've got the competitive buzz back. The results are not what they should be but things are good, they feel good, I just need to capitalise on it all now. I feel like if I keep doing what I'm doing then I'm hoping it's all going to click soon. It's been a lot of fun."

Prior to Wilson landing his maiden win on the European Tour where he held off Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2014, coming on his 229th career start, he had racked up the most runner-up finishes for a non-winner (nine). 

One of those came agonisingly at the flagship BMW PGA Championship in 2008 when losing out to Miguel Angel Jimenez in a playoff.

Wilson would painfully finish runner-up four times that season but the consolation prize was a debut appearance on the European Ryder Cup team.

But after showing so much promise in his early years on the DP World Tour, Wilson would enter a dark period several years after his maiden win on the European Tour.

So dark in fact, Wilson even considered quitting the sport for good when failing to earn his European Tour card for the 2018 season after missing the cut at Q-School. 

Wilson contemplated his options and went back to the drawing board with his team. 

He grinded daily, digging it out the dirt to try and find something, anything, just to get his game back on track and give things one last try before completely throwing in the towel. 

Four years later, Wilson was unbelievably back in the winner's circle as a DP World Tour winner following victory at the Made in Himmerland in Denmark.

Wilson carded a final-round 67 to beat Ewen Ferguson by one stroke, and it marked his first win on the DP World Tour in over seven years. 

It was an emotional one then, and it's still an emotional now, as Wilson reflected on his incredible comeback performance last September.

"Honestly Andy, it was a huge win for me [pauses, takes cap off]... it was emotional, it still is today when I look back. I didn't think it would be emotional but it was... I've been through such a lot over the last decade, just hanging in there doing whatever I could to just try rebuild my game.

"To go out there and play the way I did, and to feel so at ease too, feeling like I was going to win, it was just such an amazing feeling and such a special week for me."

Wilson even prevailed that week by hitting his customary driver off the deck down 18, a shot he mastered in his darkest of days. 

"It's funny, after my win in 2014, I was hitting driver off the deck regularly because it was the only option I had to keep the ball in play, and then I felt like I could do the rest of it. I was just trying to build some momentum, and find something that worked for me. 

"Thankfully, I've now turned this shot into a strength, and it's become a real asset to have to be able to hit driver off the deck. I hit driver off a tee most of the time but sometimes I'll throw it on the deck and hit it."

If you had told Wilson five years ago when he was slumped on his sofa contemplating his career as a professional golfer that he would be teeing it up in the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, he would have stifled a laugh. 

But that is where Wilson is today, and the sheer relief is etched all over his face. 

He's also not just here this week to make up the numbers. Far from it.

Wilson believes if everything goes his way this week that he may even be able to upset his odds of 1000/1 and etch his name on the famous Claret Jug, and with it complete the comeback of all comebacks. 

"I know I can have a really good week. I know I'm capable of contending for The Open this week. I hope to contend as I'm really excited where my game is at right now. It's just a case of learning the course a bit more. 

"Hopefully I can get a bit of luck with the draw, and try to put it all together. I feel like it can happen. Things are going in the right direction as I say. I'm hoping I can get a few good breaks and just try to play my way into the mix over the weekend."

If the win doesn't come this week, then Wilson is hoping it will arrive before the end of the season.

He got a taste of silverware last year, and he wants more of the same in 2023.

The competitive juices are back flowing for a man that used to regularly contend for European Tour titles. 

"I want to win before the end of the season, I really do. I want to have a strong second half of the year. My main goal is to beat last year. I always try to improve on the last year, that would always be my end goal. 

"I'd like to get into the DP World Tour Championship at the end of the season, that would be really nice but that will be a byproduct of continuing to build on the process I'm currently making on Tour.

"I just want to play solid, get my game in good shape heading into next year and then hopefully build all of the good habits and processes in place and keep riding them out. I believe there is a lot of good stuff to come in the future."

Wilson played in his only European Ryder Cup team to date back in 2008 when the stars and stripes ran out 16.5-11.5 victors at Valhalla. 

Despite the ultimate disappointment that week, Wilson contributed when called upon by going 1-1 in his two matches. 

He would love another crack at it though, maybe even as soon as September in Rome. 

"It would be nice wouldn't it, but we'll need a win over the next two months to see if we can force Luke's hand. I'm not in the reckoning right now but if we can play nicely over the next couple of months, then who knows?! I will need a big week this week though, so let's see what happens. It's not in my thoughts at the moment but it would be nice to throw my name into the mix as it's wide open for places for sure."

Wilson's not wrong there.

You could make a case for at least 20, maybe 25 players to fill captain Luke Donald's 2023 European Ryder Cup side. 

So go on then Oli, without naming yourself, which 12 players will make the side? 

"Oh wow [pauses for 30 seconds to contemplate his picks and then writes them down in our note book]... okay, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland, Justin Rose and Shane Lowry... those have to be your bankers [pauses for another 30 seconds to contemplate his final four picks]... right, I'll go for Bob MacIntyre, Yannik Paul, Rasmus Hojgaard and Ludvig Aberg."

We then asked Wilson if he fancied this year's European team to cause an upset and wrestle the Ryder Cup back on home soil? 

"I think it's a transitional year for the European Ryder Cup team. We've got a lot of good players. If you qualify for the Ryder Cup, you're capable of beating anyone so I think we are in good shape.

"I think being in Italy will help, obviously being on home soil. Obviously we're playing USA and they're going to have a very strong team, they always do, but they are definitely beatable.

"We are going to be the underdogs but that's something we thrive on anyway. We've got a lot of young talent coming through and I think there's a lot of people that haven't got their places fixed at the moment.

"I think the next few weeks are going to be hugely interesting to watch people push and try to gain qualification for the team. It's going to be a headache for Luke Donald.

"I would love to enter the mix and give him an even bigger headache though [laughs]!"

As a long-time member of the DP World Tour, we wanted to get Wilson's take on the recent shock merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which already bankrolls the LIV Golf League

Wilson thought the breaking news was a joke, like many of us in the golf industry in June.

On one side there is excitement and anticipation that it could be great news for the DP World Tour's future, but equally, it could all end in tears. 

Wilson told us he and the rest of his peers have not yet been made aware of DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley's "actual vision" for the circuit moving forwards, and that is raising a number of questions on the range and inside the locker room.

"I was blown away when I saw the news of the merger online. I genuinely thought it was a joke at first. Then I read about it some more and was like 'okay, well actually this could be amazing'.

"You start to think nobody has a clue but then you think why has this merger happened with Saudi Arabia? It's happened for a reason. Well, many reasons in fact. I just hope these reasons are more in terms of creating a better product for everyone, as opposed to just avoiding being dragged through the dirt and anyone getting into real trouble.

"I'm hopeful everyone is going to come together and reshape professional golf, and have it much fairer, better, a true world golf system if you will, with everyone feeding into each other, bringing in all of the Tours together so it's almost one ranking system where you work your way to the top. Bringing a LIV-style product in for team golf could be amazing though. The PGA Tour guys don't want to play loads, they want to play less. Then you've got LIV that could become an IPL-style thing, and then the European Tour just underneath that. 

"It could be amazing, it could be fantastic, but I fear as time has moved on, I fear the announcement has been made to avoid going to court, and then in a way it's going to be, right, do this for a few months, if we don't come to an agreement they don't have to go back to court and then just move on.

"If that's the case, then it's just a disaster waiting to happen because I think LIV will win that and come out on top. Guys would then just sign for LIV Golf. I fear that might be what happens, but I hope not.

Rumour: Is this the next PGA Tour star to move to LIV Golf?

"From what I gather, Yasir [Al-Rumayyan, Saudi PIF governor] is a nice guy, a good guy. So I'm hopeful that it's not the case and we can really have an amazing product that is going to bring it all together.

"The one thing in golf that has to be protected in my mind is the opportunity to go to Q-School somewhere and just play well every week to get to World No.1. Nobody can stop you. As soon as you introduce what LIV is, you've got to be recruiting. You could be the best golfer by a mile, but if nobody likes you and doesn't want you in the team, you just can't have that. Not in golf.

"Overall, I'm sort of excited, I am hopeful that the European Tour is going to become the product it should be, with more finance coming into our Tour, and all of the Tours working together. It would be nice to have a bit more fluctuation across the Tours, done more on current form as opposed to a two-year processs on the world rankings. So if you do play well for a couple of months, suddenly you make a big move. That would be great. I would just like to know what Keith Pelley's actual vision is for the DP World Tour, but none of us know what that is yet, which is a concern."

Before we let Wilson go and drill some drivers off the deck, we wanted to learn more about his choice of golf footwear, which certainly caught our eye during our interview. 

"Yeah, they're True Linkswear shoes, and I'm actually a partner of the brand now."

It's a good job we asked then...

"Yeah, so back in 2010, I was struggling with my golf shoes. Every time I played golf I needed to get the shoes off my feet as I just did not feel comfortable with anything in all honesty.

"I then started to educate myself a bit about golf footwear. Nothing was really helping me and then finally in 2016 I found a much more minimalistic golf shoe. That's where True Linkswear entered my life. I got in touch and they sent me a pair. I knew PGA Tour pro Ryan Moore who was already wearing them, I played college with him and also knew his brother well, so they sent me some shoes.

"I instantly fell in love with True Linkswear golf shoes. So basically ever since then I've been wearing their shoes. There was a little spell in the middle where I experimented and brought basically every golf shoe on the market because I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing. I was still new to understanding shoes and feet, and I tried every shoe but they were just so uncomfortable. Once you start wearing a shoe that is so good for your feet, everything else doesn't feel the same.

"So I've been all in with them since then. The last few years, I've really started to believe in these golf shoes. I then spoke to a mate and said 'let's do this together', and I wanted to bring True Linkswear shoes to the UK and Europe. I'm really excited about this venture, it's exciting for me. The brand is something that I believe in, not just the actual shoes but the way they go about everything. We are trying to do the right thing environmentally, they are good people.

Stay tuned for our full review of True Linkswear golf shoes on GolfMagic

"As for the actual shoes, I wear the True OG Tours, but there is a shoe for everyone there. They are really good looking shoes, they are good for you. People who try the brand love it, and they stick with it. I think from a business standpoint it's just about getting the word out, and get people to try them. I think they're going to do really well. Everyone I know who wears them is kind of buying into the brand. It's a very cool company and they want to spread the word.

"We've got a number of players already wearing them on the PGA Tour in Chris Kirk, Dylan Wu, Ryan Moore, Mark Hubbard and Joel Dahmen, who many people have taken to from the Netflix series. Then on the ladies circuit we've got Christina Kim and Madelene Sagstrom, and on the DP World Tour there's me and a couple of others, as well as some more over on the Challenge Tour.

"I'm hoping we can persuade a few more guys and girls to give our shoes a go and we'll see what happens."

So there you have it.

Oliver Wilson has been there, seen it, done it... and now he's got the T-shirt golf shoes. 

With his feet firmly back on the ground, we would not be surprised in the slightest to see Wilson rack up a number of wins before he eventually calls time on his playing career. 

The dark days are thankfully behind him and he is looking forward to playing some of the best golf of his career now at the age of 42. 

For more information about True Linkswear, please visit their website