Mansell revelling in his move from grid to green

Andy Farrell sees a former driver enjoy a foursomes win at Sunningdale
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The Independent Online
Having checked out of his hotel yesterday morning, the first thing Nigel Mansell had to do after completing his first-round match in the 56th Sunningdale Foursomes was find a room for the night. Mansell and his partner, the aptly named John Putt, will be teeing up again today after beating the former Ryder Cup player Paul Way and Terry Crawley 3 and 2.

Mansell may have taken the advice of Michael King too literally. "You'll get thrashed," the former Tour player, inevitably known as "Queenie", had said. In fact, Mansell, who has a handicap of 2.6 at Woodbury Park, the course he owns near Exeter, had taken money off King and Sam Torrance in practice on Tuesday. A certain world No 1 was also involved in the build-up.

"I spoke to Greg Norman on the phone last night and he just said to stay focused," Mansell explained. "He is a great motivator. Greg got me going in golf in the early 1980s and we have a very good friendship."

Mansell even played in the 1988 Australian Open at Royal Sydney before his Formula One world championship ambitions took over. Now, the reverse is true. "Unless someone gives me a car I can win in, I'm concentrating on golf this year. For the first time ever I'm free to play golf and I'm enjoying it. I am going to play as many events as I can."

This event is traditionally the start of the British season, bringing together an assorted collection of professionals and amateurs, both men and women. Mansell had chosen his partner well. Putt, a business consultant, is a Sunningdale member and was a professional when in 1973 he won the tournament, with Miss M Everard, beating two likely lads in Carl Mason and Howard Clark 6 and 5 in the final.

Under the sort of damp skies that three broken backs and a broken neck mean Mansell usually avoids by spending much of the winter in Florida and Spain, the first two holes were contrastingly halved in birdies and double-bogeys. Mansell settled after missing a short putt at seven to hole from 20 at the next and then drove to the fringe at the short par-four ninth.

Way found a bunker off that tee and then hit a horrid hook for his approach at the next to lose a third successive hole. He may not have being playing quite as poorly as his former Ryder Cup partner Seve Ballesteros, but he looked every inch a man who has lost his Tour card and failed at the qualifying school. Still only 34, he is hoping to get a few invitations to tournaments. At least he has not lost his sponsor, Crawley, who deals in futures in the city.

Presuming that they did not have much of one the way things were going, Crawley holed from 25 and 15 feet to get back to one down after 13, but the end came when Mansell holed from five feet at the 16th. "To play 16 holes in level par is good golf," Way said of the victors. "Nigel played well. It was a good game."

"I wasn't happy with the way I played, but I got it round," said Mansell, talking like a prototype golf pro. "Today was all about experience. I learnt a lot from watching how Queenie and Sam played the course yesterday - it is all course management."

The old drive is there, but swapping grid for green has clearly had a positive effect. "I can't believe how excited I get about golf. I've mellowed a lot in the last four or five years. Since Ayrton [Senna] died at Imola, I've looked at the perspective of sport differently."

Photograph, page 27