Phil relives some priceless memories

8/25/2011 7:52:34 PM
Phillip Price and Richard Hills  (Getty Images)
Phillip Price and Richard Hills (Getty Images)

As Phillip Price makes his 500th appearance on The European Tour in this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, takes a look back over the Welshman’s career…

The uniquely charged, almost gladiatorial atmosphere of a Ryder Cup match fully examines a man’s temperament as well as his talent, and Phil Price proved he possessed an abundance of both when he made his debut in the biennial contest at The Belfry in 2002.

Having watched from the sidelines on the opening day as his European team-mates established a slender advantage over their American counterparts, Price was pitched into battle alongside fellow Ryder Cup rookie Pierre Fulke of Sweden in the Saturday Foursomes.  

Despite suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of the 2001 US PGA Champion David Toms and his playing partner Phil Mickelson, who by then had already accrued more than 20 titles on the other side of the Atlantic, Price felt emboldened by his gritty display against such illustrious opponents.

The following day, American Captain Curtis Strange decided to send his big guns out last in the Sunday Singles, meaning Price, in the penultimate match, would face a familiar foe.  

Few gave Price a chance of overcoming the might of Mickelson, but against all odds David defeated Goliath as the quietly-spoken Welshman claimed the American’s prized scalp.

Price’s jubilant celebrations became of the contest’s defining images, and his unexpected victory helped to galvanise his team-mates. The force was now with Europe, and after Paul McGinley had holed an eight foot par putt on the last hole to halve his match against Jim Furyk, the trophy was returned to European hands.

Later that night, as the appointed party planner Lee Westwood introduced his team-mates one by one to raucous cheers, before rising to receive his ovation Price made himself heard above the din, and politely asked the master of ceremonies to remind the crowd who he had beaten 3&2 that day.

Price’s “Tell them who I beat, Lee” quote has since gone down in Ryder Cup folklore, and the 44 year old never tires of repeating the tale.

He recalls: “I was the last man to qualify for The Ryder Cup, so it was a bit of a battle for me to make the team. But once I got there, I was determined to enjoy it. Obviously it was postponed due to the terrorist attacks in 2001, and when it finally came round the following year I was actually struggling for form a little bit. After such a difficult build-up, it turned out to be a huge success. It was great to be a part of it, and it was undoubtedly the highlight of my career.

“Obviously everyone remembers me beating Phil in the Singles on the final day. Nobody really gave me a chance, so in a way the pressure was off, and I had nothing to lose. After I’d beaten him, I was absolutely ecstatic, and even more so because the point I’d earned ended up being important.

“The celebrations afterwards were something else, and I’ll never forget them. It was the perfect end to a great week. I made some lasting friendships, and it was just an incredible experience. The whole team was in a great mood, and we had a great party. I’m probably remembered more for asking Lee to tell them who I beat than anything I’ve done on the course, either before or since. But I’ve never really spoken to Phil about our match, because he probably doesn’t want to be reminded of it!”

It was Price’s victory at the 2001 Open de Portugal, a tournament which had also yielded his maiden European Tour title seven years previously, that acted as the catalyst for his successful bid to qualify for Captain Sam Torrance’s triumphant team.           

Price had started the final day at Quinta do Lago four strokes off the lead, held jointly by Irishman Padraig Harrington and Germany’s Sven Strüver, but charged through the field with a sparkling closing round of 64 to take the title by two strokes.

He said: “Having one the Portuguese Open twice I was more than a little disappointed when the event dropped off the schedule, because I would’ve quite fancied making it a hat-trick of wins!”

Ireland was the location for Price’s third European Tour victory, which came at the European Open at 2003, when the event was held at The K Club.

Price recalled: “The European Open was probably my biggest win of my career, in terms of the prize money and the prestige. I felt like I should’ve won more in my career, so to win a tournament which all the big guns were playing in was very important for me, and it did a lot for my confidence. Again I led from start to finish, so it was another long week, but ultimately a very rewarding one – especially as I birdied the last hole to win by one.”

Two years later Price made the ill-fated decision to try his luck on the US PGA Tour, where he made just 13 cuts, with an 11th place finish at the St Jude Classic his best performance.

Having failed to retain his card at the Qualifying School, he returned to Europe the following year to try to rebuild his confidence and career.

By his own admission Price initially struggled to make the re-adjustment, but he regained some self-belief with a third place finish at the 2006 Madrid Masters, and has since shown flashes of the talent which helped topple Mickelson.       

He said: “In hindsight, going over to America was a mistake – that’s the only real regret in my career. When things didn’t work out I got a bit down on myself, and it knocked my confidence back. I’m still endeavouring now to turn the corner and get back to where I was. I’ve still got the appetite to play and compete, even if it’s increasingly becoming a young man’s game these days.”

As one of the Tour’s elder statesmen and a proud Welshman – he was born in Pontypridd and now lives in Newport – Price rightly feels honoured to become only the third player from the Principality, after Mark Mouland and Ian Woosnam, to join the exclusive 500 club.

Never one to rest on his laurels, however, Price still retains a keen desire and will to win which will ensure that he remains competitive until he eventually hangs up his clubs and reflects on a career which has enjoyed far more peaks than troughs.      

He said: “I still feel I’m learning and trying to make progress after all these years, so hopefully I can get back to winning ways. The Senior Tour in the States is on the horizon, so I’d like to keep playing between now and then to give myself the best possible chance of hitting the ground running.

“It’s difficult to maintain your level of performance, let alone improve it, but I’ll never stop trying. I haven’t got the power of some of these young guys coming through, but hopefully my experience still counts for something.”