Free man on the open road

Paul Trow meets Alexander Cejka, a golfer speeding to a favourable future
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COLIN MONTGOMERIE may have won the war, beating Sam Torrance to No 1 in the Order of Merit after last Sunday's Volvo Masters. But as one Scot rejoiced at Valderrama, and another came to terms with his disappointment, a shy, almost gypsy-like figure quietly savoured his own moment of glory.

Victory in the year's final tour event had gone to one of the tour's young foot-soldiers. Alexander Cejka, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, has travelled a long way in a short time, but he is a restless fellow and insists he still has far to go.

At the beginning of the year he was promising but no more, his shoulder- length hair, which doubled up occasionally as a pony-tail, hinting at a streak of individuality. In 1994, his first year on the Tour, he was 102nd with prize money of pounds 51,285. Twelve months later he is sixth with pounds 308,114, not to mention a Porsche and Ferrari at home in Munich. In March he won the Andalucian Open, following that in August with a course- record 61 en route to winning the Hohe Brucke Open in Austria. Then there was Valderrama.

"I didn't think I had a chance until I came to the 17th tee in my final round," he said. "At the turn I was four shots behind the leader. All I wanted was to hang on for a good finish, but then I had four birdies and I was leading. When I birdied the 18th it was the most marvellous feeling."

This is no ordinary 24-year-old. At five, he started playing golf at his parents' local course in Marienbad, where the game had not quite been stamped out. Then in 1980 his father took him on a surprise holiday. "I don't remember much. I was only nine, but we walked, hitched and went on trains." They made their way through Yugoslavia, Italy and Switzerland before arriving in Frankfurt, where they were put up by a friend who owned a bar.

"My father told nobody what we were going to do, not even his family. It was dangerous because no one was allowed to go to the West without permission."

Cejka turned pro in 1989 andspent a few years on the Challenge Tour, Europe's feeder circuit, before earning his Tour card in 1993. Now more doors will be open: "It looks as though I will play in the American Majors next year, but I also want to visit other parts of the world. I am single and free, so I can. I need a summer break so I can go back to the Czech Republic, see my family and go fishing, even though I might miss some big-money tournaments. I don't want to be a millionaire, just live like one.

"I would like to become one of the best players in the world, but I have a long way to go. I am young and I have the potential if I keep my feet on the ground and keep working on my game. "I always wanted to be free and this way I can do what I want. I play golf as long as I have fun."

He celebrated victory in Austria by emulating John Daly, another free spirit, and having his head shaved. "I did it for a bet," he explained. "My coach, Peter Karz, and I agreed after Andalucia that we'd shave all our hair off if I won again this year."

There are always contradictions with free spirits, such as how a person who says he is "Czech through and through" can play for Germany, as he will next week at the World Cup of Golf in China. "I have a lot to be grateful to Germany for," he said, "but in my heart I will always be Czech."