Sunday, December 20, 2009

Homecoming 2010

Aberdeen-born Michael Sim aims to play in Open at St Andrews, and at Loch Lomond

Former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy calls him "the next great Australian player." Greg Norman is another fan. And when Michael Sim played the final round of this year's US Open with a guy by the name of Woods (whatever happened to him?), the world's best golfer knew exactly who he was.
"So Michael," said Tiger, "I hear you were five years old when you moved from Scotland to Australia."
It was Aberdeen to Perth in Western Australia to be exact, but the big picture is that the biggest names are all well aware of just how good a player the now 25-year old Sim has become since he first used a hickory-shafted mashie to whack a ball around with his father George, once a six-handicapper at Royal Aberdeen.
Over the past couple of weeks, courtesy of a sixth-place finish in the Australian Open and a tie for fifth at the Aussie PGA Championship, he has climbed to a career-high world ranking of 45. With a top-50 ranking at year-end therefore all but certain, Sim is guaranteed starts in all four major championships in 2010.
Not bad for a lad with only conditional exempt status on the Nationwide Tour (America's second division) at the start of this season. Not that he was in such dire straits for long. That lowly position soon changed – and kept changing. Indeed, for Sim, 2009 has been quite a year. The numbers are pretty startling.
In the 14 events he played on the Nationwide Tour this season, Sim's average prize money was over $46,000, a massive amount on America's second biggest circuit. His total earnings for the year – $644,142 – broke the previous record by almost $150,000. In those 14 starts he won three times, was second twice and had three other top-ten finishes.
In all, he led the tour in total driving, putting, ball-striking, scrambling, birdie conversions, approaches from the rough, approaches from the sand and accuracy from practically every distance between 50 and 200 yards. In other words, he totally dominated what passed for his competition.
Just about the only thing Sim got wrong in 2009 was his timing. The third of his Nationwide victories – which earned him a "battlefield promotion" to the US PGA Tour – came in the week before the start of the Fed-Ex Cup, for which he was ineligible.
Even worse, when the Fall Series came around, Sim was able to play in only one event, courtesy of a sponsor's invitation rather than his newly attained status.
"Yes, my timing could have been better," he says with a smile. "But that's the way that category is. I thought I was going to get into every event on the Fall Series. It was disappointing, especially as the Nationwide Tour really promotes that battlefield promotion as a big deal.
"I felt there should have been a spot for me in any and every event I wanted to play in after that. I hope they change it in the future. It didn't seem right that I fulfilled their criteria then didn't get to play.
"I had a great season, won three times, so it would have been nice to step up to a higher level of competition. On the other side of the coin, I did get to play in the Nationwide Tour Championship. I performed well there and topped the money list.
"So overall it was a great season, especially as I didn't play that many events. That was deliberate. I wanted to play 'fresh' most of the time and the good start I made allowed me to do that.
"I was in a position where I could basically play whenever I liked. Which is a big part of why I played so well."
Doubling Sim's sense of anticipation about the new season that is now less than a month away is the fact that he has been here before. Three years ago, the former No.1 ranked amateur in the world, emerged from the Nationwide Tour clutching both his PGA Tour card and an aching back. Sadly for Sim, the diagnosis was a stress fracture in his spine, an injury that was to cost him six months' playing time and, ultimately, his place at golf's top table.
On this occasion, however, things look to be different.
"Last time I made the US PGA Tour, my preparation wasn't too good," says Sim, with classic understatement. "This time, coming off a three-win season my confidence is high. I feel as if I'm ready to play and play well at that level.
"My goal for 2010 is simple: to win. If I can do that even once it will go down as a successful season, a stepping-stone to where I want to be. That's what this year was – another rung on the ladder. Winning on the PGA Tour is next.
"My general aim is the same as Tiger's, just to keep improving in all aspects of the game, both physical and mental. I don't feel like I have too many weaknesses so it's just a case of building on what I already have.
"If you listen to Tiger that's all he ever says: 'I want to get better.' I'm the same. He's the best player in the world, so if he is trying to improve I have to do the same. Winning is not a complicated formula. It's just a case of putting everything together, trusting what I'm doing and believing in myself. It worked this year."
That it did. And, in order to maintain his progress, Sim intends to play a lot early in 2010.
"I'm going to start at the Bob Hope next month," he reveals. "Then play Torrey Pines, LA – skip Pebble – and hopefully the World Match Play. But the big thing is consolidating my spot in the top-50 of the world rankings. There will be more points available to me next year, so I have a chance to advance.
"If I don't make the Match Play I'll play in Mexico, then on to Scottsdale (his American base]. In other words, I'll play five weeks out of six. It's so important to make a fast start if I want to move up the rankings."
Should that all come to pass, there is a more than good chance Scottish fans will get more than one opportunity to see the Aberdonian in the flesh.
"I'd love to be back in Scotland for the Open," he says. "I'll try to qualify even if I'm not exempt. It would be fantastic to play over the Old Course. I was there for the British Amateur in 2004 and loved the place. St Andrews is always exciting, especially given my background.
"I'd love to be at Loch Lomond too. But a lot depends on how well I play early next year. If I'm in a position to play I'll be there. I'm in a similar place to that Martin Laird was in before this year in that the US PGA Tour has to be my first priority. But if I have $1m or so to my name by July I will definitely play there."
If he does, get along to watch him in action. You'll be impressed.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Copyright © Colin Farquharson

If you can't find what you are looking for.... please check the Archive List or search this site with Google