Twists of fate keep players' feet firmly on the ground

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 December, 1998, 12:00am

As anyone who has ever swung a club with intent will attest, golf can take you to the highest of highs. It can, just as easily, take you to the lowest of lows.

Just ask Australian Brad Andrews, England's Ed Fryatt, China's Zhang Lianwei and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, all of whom discovered during the past week what a cruel game golf can be.

A loyal member of the Asian PGA Tour since its inception in 1995, Andrews went into the Omega PGA Championship 78th on the Order of Merit. He required a top-20 finish to earn the US$6,000 he needed to climb into the top 60 who automatically retain their playing rights for the 1999 campaign.

When he made a birdie at Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club's fourth to get to nine under he was hot on the heels of pace-setting Kang Wook-soon. A fat pay packet seemed assured, along with his future - for another year.

Then it all started to go terribly wrong. He boarded the bogey train and could not find a way to get off. Over the next eight holes, Andrews dropped six strokes. By the time he managed to stop the bleeding, it was too late.

Close to shedding tears, he limped home with a 73 to fall into a tie for 24th for which he earned about US$5,000. In the Merit standings he ended 62nd, just over US$1,000 away from his target, to leave his career in limbo.

While Andrews was scrapping it out for his playing rights, at the top end of the money list the latest chapter in the book of Fryatt's golfing heartbreaks was unfolding.

Leading the Merit table at the start of the week, Fryatt at last seemed certain to end a sad run of misfortune that has twice seen him denied similar honours on the Asian Tour.

In 1997, Korean Kim Jong-duk chipped in for an unlikely final-hole birdie in the final event of the season, winning the Kirin Open and leapfrogging above Fryatt to claim the Order of Merit crown and with it a 12-month exemption on the Japan PGA Tour.

Going into the 1998 Kirin Open, Fryatt again appeared poised to clinch the title. The only thing that could stop him was a victory for Filipino Frankie Minoza. Guess what? Minoza won.

They've not quite reached Greg Norman proportions, but they're getting there.

Reference the 1998 Ericsson Singapore Open. Playing the par-five 18th at the SAFRA Resort, Fryatt struck a decent tee shot only to watch in horror as his ball clattered into his golf bag which his caddie had taken some 260 yards down the fairway.

A two-shot penalty resulted, which dropped Fryatt from third to joint sixth, costing him US$14,000 in prize money. The full consequences of that bizarre incident only surfaced when Kang followed up his Perrier Hong Kong Open triumph by also winning the Omega PGA Championship.

Fryatt ended the campaign US$11,000 shy of the Korean to miss out on yet another opportunity to capture an Order of Merit.

Poor Zhang was also left to count the cost last week when he was disqualified from the Volvo Asian Matchplay at Shenzhen's Mission Hills for inadvertently changing his golf ball to one with a different compression.

The Chinese number one admitted it was an honest mistake and one that will never be repeated. By a strange quirk of fate, his opponent was Fryatt.

Just to prove that it's not only the professionals who occasionally slip up, Thai amateur Thongchai endured a week he would like to erase from his memory.

The hot favourite for the individual gold at the Bangkok Asian Games, Thongchai never came to terms with the windy conditions.

It's not that he played especially badly. It's just that so many had pinned such great hopes on him.

Thongchai was pilloried by the local press, who labelled his second-round one-over-par 73 'abysmal'.

Thongchai is now due to join the professional ranks where it's anticipated he'll earn fame and fortune.

After his salutary Asian Games experience, he should be better prepared to cope with the bad times when they come. Like taxes, they inevitably will.