It is doubtful whether any player epitomises the pendulous nature of professional golf better than Pierre Fulke. One year earlier, the 29 year old Swede had been at a low ebb with his career threatened by a back problem.
And, although Fulke lost to American Steve Stricker in the final of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play at The Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, his performance throughout the week saw him draw admiring glances from many quarters.
It also saw him gather an abundance of Official World Golf Ranking Points, too, raising the former European Challenge Tour player to 32nd on the list, his highest ever position and a far cry from the 203rd place he occupied just one week before the 1999 Ryder Cup in Boston.
Such was the magnitude of his performance - he earned 532,592 euro (£334,336) “Down Under”, Fulke’s place in the European Team bound for The De Vere Belfry in September was already assured, ensuring he became at least the fifth Swede to play in the biennial contest, following in the footsteps of Joakim Haeggman, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Jesper Parnevik and Jarmo Sandelin.
“I was disappointed to lose to Steve in the final, of course, but before I went to sleep I was pretty pleased,’’ said Fulke. “It had been a great week. It was only the beginning of January, I had earned half a million and I knew I could now prepare properly for The Ryder Cup.”
Fulke’s Antipodean exploits continued a glorious five-month spell following his victories in 2000 in the Scottish PGA Championship at The Gleneagles Hotel and the Volvo Masters at Montecastillo.
Before that, his first Tour title had come in France in September 1999 when he captured the Trophée Lancôme, but in between them, he had the real worry of a potentially serious injury with which to contend.
“After winning the Lancôme I was out for about seven months with a wrist problem which actually turned out to be referred pain from my neck and back,’’ said Fulke. “Initially the pain came straight away and I pulled out of the Belgacom Open (the week after his Trophée Lancôme win) and I treated it like an injury to the wrist.
“I saw the best hand surgeon in Sweden. We never did surgery but he opened it up, went in, and had a look around but found nothing wrong structurally with it. He cleaned up the tendons a bit and I seemed to recover.
“I then went down to Dubai in mid-March (2000) to practise and it came back within a week. Obviously it was something else and that was when I went to a chiropractor in Stockholm called Michael Jansch. It was my idea. He was into a bit of eastern medicine and yoga so I thought it would be a good idea to give him a call and after four or five treatments with him, the problem was solved.
“The problem was that the vertebrae in my neck and back were in the wrong place and therefore were sending out the wrong signals to the rest of my body. He just put them back in place and everything was fine.”
Fulke admitted that during his darkest hours, it had occurred to him that he might never play golf at the highest level again. He said: “It came into my mind, very briefly, in Dubai. I had only hit about 300 balls in six days and the problem recurred. You do think about it.”
But with his health on an even keel, Fulke began to play the golf he knew he was capable of and began to climb the Official World Golf Ranking. His victory in the Trophée Lancôme moved him from 203rd to 99th, his Scottish PGA Championship success saw him rise to 68th and after the Volvo Masters he stood 48th.
So while the Australian spectators, who lined the fairways at The Metropolitan Golf Club, might not have been too aware of the Swede before the event began, they most certainly did so as he reached the final with victories over Americans Fred Funk and Glen Day, New Zealand’s Michael Campbell, a third American, Brad Faxon, and tournament favourite Ernie Els of South Africa.
Meanwhile Stricker came through impressively with wins against Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, American compatriots Scott Verplank and Justin Leonard, Australia’s Nick O’Hern and Japan’s Toru Taniguchi.
In the 36 hole final Stricker lunched two-up, but at the 16th (34th) in the afternoon it appeared that Fulke would square the match. Stricker had hit from a fairway bunker into a greenside bunker, but he came out to five feet from where he holed for the all-important half which kept him one up with two to play.
It was just the boost Stricker required and when Fulke’s 12 foot putt at the 17th to keep the match alive stayed above ground, the American was the champion.
So Stricker collected the $1 million first prize, the biggest cheque of his career, with what was his first victory since 1996. He said: “It had been a long time, with a lot of lows, but what a way to start the year - any year!”Scott Crockett.
This article has been reproduced from The 14th Edition of The European Tour Yearbook which can be purchased at a special price direct via the Order Form.