Golf: Fryatt finds his feet in America

Andy Farrell talks to an English golfer who is thriving on foreign fairways
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The Independent Online
A quick resume of the leading Britons in last week's US Open: Colin Montgomerie, of course, second; Lee Westwood, after his fine US Masters, tied for 19th with, among others, Tiger Woods and Nick Price; Ed Fryatt, joint 24th. Ed Fryatt? As in the Ed Fryatt who finished four shots better than the six-time major winner Nick Faldo.

Fryatt, 26, has lived in the United States for the last 22 years. From Rochdale to Las Vegas, it is quite a story. There is only one Fryatt who is in the Las Vegas phone book, and it is the same one who is in the Football League record book. Jim Fryatt, who played for a string of clubs including Stockport, Southport, Blackburn, Oldham and Torquay, scored one of the quickest goals ever, a lightning four seconds for Bradford Park Avenue against Tranmere in 1964.

In contrast to his father, Ed Fryatt made a footnote at the US Open by being penalised a stroke during the second round for slow play. Despite that, he went on to record a final round 69, one under, and earn $24,173. On the last day, he played alongside Paul Broadhurst and during the walk down the second hole, a lengthy par-three, Fryatt explained his background.

His father went out to America to play for Philadelphia in the now defunct North American Soccer League and then went to coach in Las Vegas. The family has stayed ever since. "I didn't take up golf until I was quite old," Fryatt said. "I was 13 and some friends from school said they were going to play and asked if I wanted to go along. Then they asked if my dad could give them a ride, since he didn't work nine-to-five. I knew there had to be a reason for them to ask me but we went, and then we went back the next day. I've been at it ever since."

Fryatt's has been a gradual progression. He graduated from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in 1994 and turned professional, something that did not feel unnatural given the family background. His brother, a college soccer player, tried to make a go of a pro career in England but it did not work out.

The initial signs for Fryatt were not good. He went to the US Tour school in 1994 and earned a position on the Nike Tour, the junior circuit to the main tour in America, only to lose his card after the 1995 season. Last year, he went to the Asian tour, won the Indonesian Open and finished second on the money list. Unlucky again at the US qualifying school last December, he returned to Asia this year and won the Indian Open.

That performance earned him an exemption into the sectional qualifying for the US Open, and he went through as one of three qualifiers from 37 players at Bull Valley, Chicago. "I had just got in from Korea a few days before, but I was playing well and I took that confidence with me to the US Open," Fryatt said.

"I was driving the ball well, which you have to do on US Open courses. I did not feel as nervous as when I was trying to win those tournaments in Asia. It doesn't matter where you've been playing if you have that confidence which comes with playing well. You just have to get over the fact that you are playing with people who are well known, and you are not. But when you hit it down the fairway in the same place as Paul Broadhurst, you think: 'What's the difference?'"

The difference was that Fryatt is still trying to establish himself. He was three strokes away from earning a return trip to the US Open, and only two from going to Augusta next year. But it was a positive performance to put in his cv, which is being circulated to all the remaining tournaments on the US tour in the hope of gaining some invitations. "This has given me a thirst to play on tour," he said. "It's my goal to make the US Tour. It would be great to be competing against players like Justin Leonard and David Duval, who were my contemporaries in junior golf."

But there will be no Open this year. "I didn't enter and I regret that now. I have a contract with Ping to play 18 events during the year, and to go over and play in the qualifying, and possibly not make it, would have meant missing a couple of tournaments and meant I could be short at the end of the year."

Instead, his next golf will be two events in Taiwan in July and then the Singapore Open. Despite his transplanted roots, he still feels an allegiance for his old home. "With my parents being British, whenever there was a football international on the television, we would support England, or when I was in Asia and the Cricket World Cup was on, the same. I was on the Nike Tour during the last Ryder Cup match and I was definitely supporting Europe. It seemed there were enough people supporting America.

"When I was younger, I would always follow Woosie trying to win the US Masters, or Faldo or Lyle, and Seve was a hero, of course. I played a practice round at Congressional with Faldo in the group behind and I was trying to play slow so he would catch up the group to play with him. He is a lot bigger than you might think from television."

Yet so far, his golf in Britain has been limited to a few rounds in failing to pre-qualify for the European Tour school in 1994. "On the plane coming back to Vegas, I was sitting next to a guy who was talking about playing golf in Britain and Ireland. I didn't let on I was British. He was telling me about Ballybunion, St Andrews, Carnoustie, Gleneagles, and it sounded great to play places like those."