Kirstin Nicholson, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper
As the Cohuna Golf Club prepares for the Stuart Appleby Pro-Am next week, we talked with home grown hero, Stuart Appleby, about his journey from local Cohuna lad to household name and international golfing legend.
It was when his parents took up golf that Stuart Appleby was introduced to the game. As a 14-year-old, he played cricket and football, but it was golf that caught his eye and stole his heart.
Stuart would talk to his mum, Ruth, about what she had learnt at her golf lessons and even though he wasn’t a golfer at that time, he was full of helpful advice.
It wasn’t long before he began playing at Cohuna Golf Club, and cricket and football were replaced entirely by golf. Ruth says that he went from bowling at wickets every night in the backyard to practicing golf, putting into an ice cream container for hours each night.
For the next few years, weekends were spent in Melbourne playing tournaments. His father, Mal, would drive him down and return late Sunday night and Ruth took on farm duties.
“Once Dad and I both shared a golf passion, and I was getting good enough to play amateur events, he was instrumental in allowing me to duck away for the weekend and play golf as a young teenager. Mum took over the farm on weekends, that was a full-time role for her – just so I could go out and get down to the big smoke in Melbourne or around Victoria to play at big events to see if I had the skill,” Stuart said.
The next phase of his golfing journey was a move to Melbourne after Brian Huxtable at the Barham Golf Club recognised his skills and encouraged him to take it further.
The Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) and the government had introduced a program to get young aspiring golfers to be in the top 100 in the world ranking, with a new approach to coaching that also focused on mental and physical coaching. Stuart took the timely opportunity to develop his game and further his career.
After a few years of playing around Australia representing Victoria in all age categories and playing all the top amateur events, he turned pro in 1992.
A new pro tour, the Foundation Tour, was introduced in Victoria. “It was only a small tour, but I won a lot of those events. That gave me a lot of confidence to then head over to the US and start from ground zero and try to use the experience I had as a well-progressed amateur in the five years before, to go to the big, scary US and see if I could find some sort of playing privileges over there.”
In 1995, he made the move, had qualified and had playing privileges on the secondary tour. The first year was tough, certainly not glamorous. “I was basically travelling around hotel to hotel, had no idea where to stay, had no idea what the courses were like and I had to find a place to practice in off weeks,” he recalls.
He had playing privileges on the PGA Tour in 1996 and had his first win by March 1997. Winning, he says, made him realise that this was real, and he had made his mark and cemented that he could, indeed, do this. It was all up from there and he developed his skills and consistency so he could continue playing with ‘the big boys’.
There have been plenty of wins, but win or lose, it is always back to the grind the next day, trying to work out what you can do better.
His numerous titles include nine PGA Tours, an Australian Open and an Australian Masters.
The highlight of his career though, was winning his first Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in 1998. “Golf is a solitary sport. You’ve got a lot of people and a lot of friends who might be cheering you on from behind the television, but when you do it in front of them, and with other team members, it is huge – and I was on one of the greatest courses. There couldn’t have been a better cap off for the late 90s for me.”
He reminisces about the connections and friendships formed and the encouragement given to him as a young golfer. “The guys that were emotionally impactful and role models were guys like Ian Baker-Finch, Peter Senior and Ernie Els. They were absolute gentlemen with their generosity and hospitality towards me when I was younger. They are not only champion golfers, but they are also champion guys.”
A back injury and surgery forced Stuart to slow down in recent years, and COVID-19 has also seen golf take a backseat. The time has been used to play some social golf and focus on getting healthy again, but he has managed to play a few tournaments this year.
“That’s behind me and I feel like there’s an opportunity now to get out and produce some things on the Champions Tour.”
With his wife, Ashley, and four children aged 11-16, life has been busy, but Stuart has enjoyed the time at home with his family during the pandemic. A hands-on person, he has been catching up on jobs around the house.
His family here in Cohuna are integral to the whole picture, and one thing that Stuart has missed is the annual holiday back to the family farm. He has made every effort to nurture a connection between Cohuna and his own family. “The Cohuna area has been a big part of my life and I’ve made it a part of my life, even now. With my family, I’ve made it a huge part of their life, and they love it. It is a great escape, and it happens to be the place that I grew up.”
The spectacular mountains and lakes in the western parts of the US are a far cry from rural Victoria, but he reminisces about his mum’s garden, the farm and camping on the Murray River as one of the greatest joys in his life. “It’s one of the most calming, relaxing, beautiful parts of the world,” he concludes.
He hopes to return to Cohuna in 2022. In the meantime, it is videos, photos, text messages and calls that keep his family connected.
Ruth and Mal are very proud of their son’s achievements. “We’re proud of his career,” said Mal. “It’s been very exciting, and it’s brought a lot of excitement to the district, especially when he was at the peak of his career.”
You can follow Stuart’s next event, the Champions Tour, or the ‘old man’s tour’ as he calls it, in February 2022.
Talent, desire, dedication, discipline and the right coach or coaches are the keys, says Stuart.
“You’ve got to understand that if you get knocked down, it’s just a sign to maybe change what you are doing – or to stick with something that you’re doing – you have to be resilient.
“If you’re doing something you connect with and you really feel like there’s something about it, something that makes you get out of bed in the morning, then that’s what you need to do. It doesn’t mean it always works, but it’s got to work for somebody.
“You have to hang in there when everything sucks and enjoy it. If you spend most of your time in golf and you suck at it and you’re not that good at it, then you’ve got to suck with dignity and do the best you can.”
Stuart Appleby Pro-Am
Stuart says the Stuart Appleby Pro-Am is a way for him to help the club raise much needed funds through the sale of pro-am packages, and he wants to help bring the club an event that would show the professional players what a great little course Cohuna is – and he adds, they love it!
“The members have great pride in the club and course and I was more than happy to help out in a small way to help them and give the pros a place to develop their games to a higher level.”
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 18 November 2021.