PERTHSHIRE, SCOTLAND | Oliver Fisher, who won the Czech Open eight days ago, would have shaken many more hands than he hit golf balls at last week’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. Everyone wanted to congratulate him.
The degree of support for this particular first-time winner has been way above the norm, with the impromptu celebrations in The Dubliner in Ostrava on the Sunday night a case in point. The pub was full of caddies and players who were unable to fly home until the next day and, when Fisher joined them, there was a heart-warming moment as a gentle round of applause turned into something much more.
“We loved it when Darren Clarke won the Open,” explained Peter Futcher, from the ranks of the caddies, “but this was probably the most popular win of the year. We all rate Ollie. He’s worked hard and, even when he’s been going through the toughest of times, he’s never moaned.”
At 16, the now 22-year-old Fisher was the youngest ever to make a GB&I Walker Cup side. On the individual front, he won a trio of Nick Faldo junior events, the St Andrews Links Trophy and a Duke of York Young Champions Trophy. In fact, it was the Duke of York who gave the royal seal of approval to his decision to turn professional at 17, suggesting that he was good enough not to need a Plan B. “He was that talented,” says HRH.
To no one’s great surprise, the teenager got off to a sound start and was a runner-up in only his second season. But he lost his card in 2009 and, though he made a great fist of winning it back and had a handful of good finishes in 2010, he missed 20 out of 21 cuts earlier this year.
It goes without saying that throughout these ups and downs he could not but be aware of other youngsters forging ahead of him. Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero to name the two European examples.
“There are players like Rory and Matteo,” he said, “who can have glittering amateur careers and move straight into glittering professional careers but you have to be realistic. It’s not something that happens very often. Myself, I have my share of hiccups.”
He acknowledges that those hiccups became pretty dire when he was missing his 20 cuts. So much so that he had all but had enough.
“I thought of giving up,” he confessed, “but the more I thought about it the more I realised there was nothing else I could do.
“It was a terrible time. There I was, working my butt off and asking myself over and over, ‘Why isn’t anything happening?’ ”
Graeme Storm, one of his best pals on the European Tour, was among the many players who took it upon themselves to remind Fisher just how good he was. “I kept repeating that old saying about form being temporary and class permanent,” said Storm.
Fisher’s father, Rupert, who used to do an early-morning stint in the fruit market in order to be able to spend time with his three sons, remained as supportive as ever, as did his coaches. At home, he still sees the same Chris Jenkins who gave him free lessons as a child; on Tour, he works with Pete Cowen, most recently on retaining his height throughout the swing.
Cowen is the straightest of talkers, someone in whom the players have complete trust. In Fisher’s case, he said, simply, “Ollie, you’re going to be all right.”
If a 35th place in the Nordea Masters and a 45th in the Irish Open hardly suggested that a win was just around the corner, they were at least a step in the right direction.
Out in the Czech Republic, the biggest test came when they shone the cameras on him for a first time on the Saturday morning. “I was nervous,” said Fisher. “I didn’t know how I’d handle it but, as it turned out, I loved it. Absolutely loved it.”
In other words, he had discovered anew that he was able to perform well when in contention.
Fisher has his own theories as to how he turned a season from hell into one to remember. Theories which tie in with Futcher’s comment about never moaning.
“You’ve got to dig down and find a few positives whatever your situation,” Fisher said. “However bad things were, I was always able to switch off, to go out for a meal with friends or to go home and enjoy time with my mates.”
The handshakes and the pats on the back continued as Fisher talked. And, in most instances, the well-wishers added a comment to capture the extraordinary nature of a game in which a man can go virtually straight from a rut of missed cuts to winning a tournament.
“Weird, isn’t it,” muttered Fisher, as much to himself as much as anyone else.