When Australian Peter Fowler lifted the John Jacobs Trophy in Mauritius at the end of the 2011 European Senior Tour season, compatriot Mike Harwood was among the first to congratulate his close friend.
The pair travel, practice and often share houses together when on Tour, so it was only natural that former PGA and Volvo Masters Champion Harwood felt an innate sense of pride in Fowler’s achievement.
Yet, like any sportsman, the competitive streak runs deep through Harwood’s veins and the 53 year old could not help but also cast an envious look as Fowler held off the challenge of Barry Lane in the MCB Tour Championship to become the third Australian to top the Senior Tour Order of Merit.
Harwood could so easily have been pushing Fowler for the John Jacobs Trophy all the way himself had he not, self-admittedly, “underperformed on the greens” in key moments during the 2011 campaign, most notably in carding a closing 79 when in contention alongside his countryman in the final group of the ISPS Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum, in England, last June.
Whereas Fowler went on to win that particular event, before claiming a second title in the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open en route to Order of Merit glory, Harwood finished in a share of ninth and could only manage two more top ten finishes in 2011, eventually having to settle for eighth place on the Order of Merit.
Nevertheless, watching Fowler’s crowning glory in Mauritius last December has given Harwood added incentive to raise his own game to a new level and challenge for honours himself in 2012.
“It was a fantastic effort by Peter to win the John Jacobs Trophy,” said Harwood, a five-time winner on The European Tour. “I was very happy for him but I was also a bit annoyed with the way I played in the final rounds last year. I would like to have given him a bit more of a run for his money but he is a tough competitor and he thoroughly deserved it.
“I played some terrific golf last year but my putting let me down when it came to the crunch. My putting has always been my strength but if it hadn’t been for my putting last year I probably would have been up there with Peter. So that was disappointing.
“I’ve got a bit to work on then in the close season. Also, most of the guys are 20 yards longer than me off the tee so I need to close that gap. I’ve got my goals moving forward, whether that works, who knows? I feel I’m getting better every year though and played better last year tee to green.
“I finished ninth in my first year on the Order of Merit having played like an idiot all year until the last week when I won the Tour Championship. Last year I played fantastically all year but had a couple of hiccups on Sunday with the putter and finished eighth. So to play horrendously in my first year and tremendously last year but finish roughly in the same position makes you shake your head. I suppose winning gives you that big cheque, whereas I was just steady last year.”
Harwood’s motivation to work even harder on those key improvements to his game during the close-season was fortified by watching at first hand Fowler’s tireless travails off the course, followed by his edifying resurgence on it.
Fowler was preparing for his Senior Tour debut in Jersey in 2009 when he suffered a career threatening back injury that severely hampered his first two campaigns.
The 52 year old’s rehabilitation proved a gruelling process, involving countless hours spent in the gym – a regime that Fowler continued into the 2011 season when he was ultimately rewarded with success on the course.
“Two years ago Peter was useless as he was coming back from his surgery and a lot of people questioned whether he would ever play again,” said Harwood. “I stay with him most weeks and when you see him working out in the gym for a couple of hours each you realise how unbelievable what he has done is.
“The last month of the season he was an absolute basket case. If he was a horse you would have shot him. He had so many injuries and he has had an operation at the end of the season on his knee, so his effort to win has been really incredible.
“I played with him last year at Stapleford Park (in the ISPS Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Fourm) and he didn’t play that well to win but after that he played some amazing golf.
“His last rounds were something to dream about. His scoring average in the last round must have been about 68. Peter works harder than anyone out on Tour so I’m delighted for him. He’s a workaholic. He lives golf, that’s his life. He has always been the same. Winning the John Jacobs Trophy was just rewards for him.”