Golf: Question of Price and values

`I have got all my priorities in order and my life has been an absolute pleasure'; Andy Farrell says the US PGA has come at the right time for a former champion
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The Independent Online
AS THE last man before Mark O'Meara to win two major championships in the same season, Nick Price knows what it is like to be on a roll. "The big thing about golf and winning tournaments is momentum," he said. "Once you get momentum and you get a little bit of confidence, suddenly the door opens for you. It is like there is a flood. That is what has happened with me in the past."

Winning the FedEx St Jude Classic last Sunday in Memphis was the perfect tonic for Price after a frustrating year of near-misses. Only one major remains for the season, this week's US PGA Championship at Sahalee, outside Seattle. "I want to win some more," the 41-year-old Zimbabwean said. "I can turn what has been a very mediocre year into an exceptionally good one if I have a good strong finish. So I am excited."

The win was his first in America since the death of his long-term caddie, Jeff "Squeeky" Medlen, who died of leukaemia in June last year. "I thought about him a couple of times during the final round," Price said. "I was thinking what he would have said in certain situations. You have someone work for you for eight years, you don't suddenly forget about him."

His latest victory was the 40th of his career. "That's a real milestone for me. I never thought I would get to 40 wins. One more and I catch my age." Should that occur this week it would be the third time that Price has captured the US PGA, adding to his wins in 1992 and 1994, the latter following his victory in the Open at Turnberry a month earlier.

"I have never played the course but then I had never played Bellerive in '92 or Southern Hills in '94. But it is summertime and I just love the summertime. I wish my kids could have their holidays in December and January because the summer is the worst time in the world for me to take a break.

"It is our busiest time. This year has been a real juggling act because I am trying to spend as much time as I can with them, but yet I have got to try and go out there and practise and play as many tournaments as I can. You need a bit of momentum going into a major."

In Chinook Indian, Sahalee - pronounced "Suh-holly" - means "high heavenly grounds". The course is perched 500ft above the inlet of Puget Sound on the Sammamish Plateau in rolling countryside west of the Cascade Mountains. A two-time US PGA champion of an earlier era, Paul Runyon, was the club pro when the course opened in the 1960s and described trying to plot a way through the tightly tree-lined fairways as "like playing down a cathedral aisle".

Such a task should not be a problem for Price, one of the game's best ball-strikers. His greatest weakness has always been on the greens. "I hate to harp on about this but I have not putted very solidly over the last six months. I have not been making the bonus putts, the ones in the 15 to 20 foot range.

"My game from tee-to-green has been solid for the last two and a half years. If I could just get to putting like I did in that spell from '92 through '94 I would probably have won a couple more tournaments this year. I've been playing for seventh and eighth places because the putter has been in the bag for show, just making up the numbers.

"But over my career, 70 per cent of the time I've putted mediocre and the other 30 per cent well. That's when I have a chance because my ball- striking has always been a standard."

Price was fourth at the US Open and was a shot off the lead in the Open at Royal Birkdale when he was blown away by an 82 in the third round. "I can't remember a time when I hit so many good putts that kept burning the edges," he said.

If the course was not hard enough, Price had just discovered that he was among those being sued by five shareholders of Atrigon, an equipment firm he represented for a year but which failed due to mismanagement by the directors. "It concerned me," he admitted. "It is the first time that people have pointed the finger at me. The frightening thing is that I've done nothing wrong."

There are few occasions when he has, and it is not just because it rhymes that Price is described so often as one of the sport's nice guys. He will take most of September off while he moves home. "I can't let my wife move into a new house on her own. She moved out of the old one into the rental house on her own, I am not going to let her move into the new one on her own."

But there is no lack of ambition in a man who has been playing around the world for more than 20 years. "I still have the desire, which I think is the key. I still love playing the game and practising. It's fun.

"Over the last couple of years I've got all my priorities in order and life has been an absolute pleasure. When you have a family and got kids, not playing well is not the be all and end all. Especially your kids, they have no idea. My kids are too young to understand. They still think Greg Norman is a better golfer than I am."