Wood turns pro for shot at big time – and lots of wedge

Money talks as 6ft 5in Bristolian who could have won the Open calls time on his amateur career, writes Tim Glover
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The Independent Online

Chris Wood was due to make a rare appearance for his club, Long Ashton, in the Bristol and District League last Thursday but instead found himself playing at Wentworth with Darren Clarke and Chubby Chandler. Such is the price of fame.

The occasion was an International Sports Management day and Wood, the amateur sensation at the Open at Royal Birkdale, was being wooed by Chandler, who runs ISM. Having withdrawn from the English Amateur Championship, which starts tomorrow, Wood will turn professional, probably within the next few days.

"I haven't got an agent but I've got several offers to consider," he said. "I'm keen to turn pro. That's why you practise every day. I've got a great opportunity now."

When he drops the asterisk that denotes amateur, Wood will immediately receive invitations to play on the European Tour, such was his impact on the Open. There was a similar story on the same stage in the same championship 10 years ago when Justin Rose, then a 17-year-old amateur, finished in a tie for fourth place and turned professional almost before the cheers had died down. Rose then travelled to the Dutch Open and produced a hook to rival that of the Hook of Holland. It was the first of 21 missed cuts in a row.

The Rose-Wood scenario is different in that the latter, thanks to the efforts of the English Golf Union, has had three more invaluable years of experience. Wood finished joint fifth this year, seven strokes behind the winner, Padraig Harrington, who received £750,000 in prize money, and that is just a downpayment.

"I read in the papers that had I not been an amateur I would have won about £160,000," Wood said. "A lot of my mates said to me: 'Why the hell weren't you playing as a professional?' They're non-golfers. You have to do your apprenticeship. I always knew, even if I won the Open, that I wasn't going to earn a penny."

The scary thing is that as well as he played and scored in the most testing of conditions, the 20-year-old 6ft 5in Bristolian, who was making his debut in the Open having come through qualifying, believes he could have won the Claret Jug rather than the Silver Medal.

"My score could have been a lot better," Wood said. "I holed nothing all week. I hit so many good putts that either shaved the hole or lipped out. I didn't feel under pressure and I put myself in contention but it just didn't go for me." He is already beginning to sound like a pro.

With birdies at the seventh and ninth holes in the final round, Wood went to the turn in 33 and was within a few strokes of the lead, but he came home in 39 as second place went to his playingpartner, Ian Poulter.

"Playing in the Open was the best experience of my life and I'm missing it already," Wood said. "It was so good. During the championship I was so into the golf I didn't really notice anything else. It will help me so much in the future. I felt like I dealt with it quite well." It was the understatement of the championship. Most people expected Wood to disappear from the leaderboard, but in the gales and rain he clung on like a limpet.

"In the earlier rounds I played with a couple of Americans, and being paired with Poulter on the last day was just amazing. He was such a nice guy. When I hit a good shot he'd stick his thumb up. After he'd made his putt on the ninth I had a four-footer for birdie and he said, 'Knock it in, mate'. For a while we were both in contention, and when he made a long putt on the 18th to be the leader in the clubhouse it felt as though we were playing in front of a crowd at a big football stadium. We didn't know that Harrington was going to make an eagle at the 17th."

Wood's brilliant exploits at Birkdale mean that he is exempt for next summer's Open at Turnberry. "I've played there often, I know it very well and I'm already looking forward to it." Had his aggregate been 289 instead of 290, Wood would also have qualified for the Masters at Augusta next year. "That," he said, "was a sickener."

The only one. Last Sunday evening he was driven home by his coach, Paul Mitchell, and they got to Nailsea at 1am. Wood's father, Richard, a four-handicapper who carried the bag at Birkdale, stayed on to play a round at Lytham. "He's turning into a better caddie than aplayer," his son said.

"On Monday morning I was woken by a call at 8am and I didn't get off the phone until 2pm. I was talking to friends, the media, everyone. That night I was in bed by 10pm and I didn't start to unpack my bag until the following morning."

There was no time to walk the family's golden retriever, Olly – that was the job of his mother, Sara – as Wood was reunited with his fitness trainer, Andy Wadsworth. "I think my fitness helped me get through what was a very draining week, mentally and physically."

The Silver Medal, on which is engraved his name and score, lies on a table in the lounge. It was not until Friday evening that Wood had a chance to watch his great adventure on the Lancashire links. A pal had made a recording and invited him round.

Months ago, Long Ashton arranged a testimonial day for Wood on 15 August in which 40 teams of four, playing in a better-ball, were hoping to raise about £8,000 to offset some of the expenses of one of their favourite sons. Wood may not need it now.

Meanwhile, his 22-year-old sister Abi, who is touring Europe, sent him a text message from Prague on the Sunday congratulating him on his achievement. Had she watched it? "No, she's not that bothered. I think my mum told her." After finishing his second round he received a text from Abi which became the quote of the 137th Open: "Are you at that golf thingy?"

It will help to keep Wood's feet on the ground.