Thursday, September 18

Golf career starts making sense
By Adrian Wojnarowski


CHASKA, Minn. -- The Australian Masters had gone to a sudden-death playoff five years ago, one golfer between Ted Lonard's son and his country's most cherished championship when the father disappeared. As Peter Lonard walked to the tee, the old man made his way out of the madness of the gallery, walking and walking until finding spectators watching the tournament on a wide screen.

Peter Lonard
Peter Lonard has top-15 finishes in both the U.S. and British Opens this year.

Eventually, a perfect stranger turned to Ted and suggested he wasn't terribly impressed with his son's resolve for victory.

"This bloke's finished second five times this year," the man said.

Ted Lonard didn't dispute these disparaging words. Just nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "This will be his sixth."

Meet good old Ted Lonard, the Anti-Earl Woods of Australia. He is a practical man, 45 years on one job for one insurance company. He forever feared the worst out of his son's golfing life. Why didn't this kid listen to him all those years ago? Why didn't he honor his wishes when he brought him golfing for the first time?

"He'd take me as long as I didn't take it up as a sport," Peter confessed.

"He's still getting over it."

Back home in Sydney, the uneasy golfing father has to be impressed. His son -- the self-professed "old rookie on earth" -- had come far enough to shoot a 3-under par 69 and a tie for third at the end of the first round at the PGA Championship. Just a bogey on the 18th of Hazeltine National Golf Club left him without a share of the lead.

When his round was over, there was Tiger Woods sipping water in the interview room corner, listening to Peter Lonard tell his improbable story and waiting his turn at the microphone. Lonard comes to the PGA, to a major, and makes Woods wait on him.

"It was quite enjoyable to see, wasn't it?" Lonard said.

The man understands waiting for his time. Ten years ago, he was down and out, 25 and fearing golf was gone for him. Doctors diagnosed him with "Ross River Fever," a virus mosquitoes injected into several thousand Aussies, poisoning people for two long, agonizing years. For all the remedies the public prescribed to him, doctors warned him time was its only cure.

From 1992 to 1994, Peter never left his parents' couch, pumping fast food into his body and witnessing his savings dwindle to a zero balance. He gained 80 pounds. It was a downright disaster.

"It dragged on and on and on and nothing changed," he said. " 'You'll know when you're better,' they told me. 'You'll walk one hole. And then two holes. And the next day, three holes.'"

That's how it happened, too. He took a job in a pro shop, started back on the Australian tour, his game still so far gone, he feared it had left him forever. Finally an eye doctor suggested the virus could be responsible for vanquishing his vision. Tests confirmed it.

"Your eyes are shot," the doctor said

Lonard got it fixed.

"And when my eyes got better after surgery," Lonard said, "my golf started to get better."

Peter finally won the Australian Masters in 1997. It inspired him to earn a European tour card and start his way overseas. Finally this year, Paul Gow, an Aussie on the PGA Tour, used an old trick to get his buddy to Qualifying School, teasing him that he couldn't make it here.

"All of a sudden I've got a card and a decision to make," Lonard said. "&Do I risk a comfortable living for the rest of my life in Europe or do I come over here and see what happens?"

He has $1,128,401 for his 2002 earnings, top 15 finishes at the U.S. and British Open, and goes to work on Tour every day without that stable banking job his father wished way back for him. When he was 16 years old, he had come home to tell Ted, "I'm going to be a golf pro," a declaration met with a father's most encouraging four words: "Over my dead body."

Across the world this week, Ted Lonard awoke Friday to his son near the top of the PGA Championship leaderboard, with Tiger Woods reduced one day, anyway, of listening and learning a little something about the PGA Tour rookie golfer against the longest of odds.

"Dad is just starting to come around on this," Peter Lonard said. "If I win this week, he might think that maybe this wasn't such a bad decision."

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.










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