INSIDE GOLF: Fitzgerald following his Tour dreams

Emigration is a topic so often tinged with sadness and regret but from sunny San Diego, California, comes news of an Irishman turning adversity into the hope of fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Andrew Fitzgerald, 35, took voluntary redundancy from Heineken in Cork, turned up trumps in the US green card lottery and last October moved with his wife, Jane, to California and found a job with a local drinks distributor.

As all this was going on, the four-time All Ireland medal winner with Monkstown got his handicap down from 4 to 2 in order to play PGA Tour Pre-Qualifiers that take place every week ahead of each tournament.

Fitzgerald, whose grand-uncle was Rosses Point’s six-time Walker Cupper Cecil Ewing, the first amateur to win 50 international caps, wasted no time pursuing his passion Stateside, playing the Frys.com Open qualifier within a month of his arrival, finishing 64th.

The new year has seen the Corkman, now an overseas member of Ring of Kerry, move to a +0.2 handicap and finish 39th in January at the Farmers Insurance Open qualifier and 41st in the Northern Trust Open qualifier last month.

So encouraged has been by those performances, that Fitzgerald has decided to enter the Canadian Tour School being held in California from April 7-12. He took the brave decision to quit his job in order to get himself ready for the PGA Tour-affiliated Q-school.

“I made the tough decision of leaving my job so I could give myself the best chance to prepare,” Fitzgerald said from San Diego. “Sometimes, a leap of faith is needed to succeed! Never die wondering is my motto!!”

Fitzgerald certainly won’t and his bravado has been rewarded by being placed on a Titleist graduateship programme offering equipment at discounted rate as well as further assistance from Golf Pride Grips.

His competitive streak is clear and during his 26 years as a Monkstown member, Fitzgerald, then coached by club pro Batt Murphy, won the 1995 Cork U18 Championship and two Junior Scratch Cups, as well as being a member of his club’s victorious Jimmy Bruen team in 1995. There have been silvers in the Junior Cup in 1997 and 2000 as well as a bronze in the 2007 Mixed Foursomes but now Fitzgerald faces an altogether different challenge.

When he tees it up at Morongo GC in Beaumont, California, next month for Canadian Q-school, there will be another 299 hopefuls vying for the 40 tour cards on offer.

No wonder he’s going all out to try and make his grab for glory a successful one, even if it is a largely self-sufficient bid at his newly adopted San Diego municipal, Balboa Park and local driving range Mission Bay.

“I’m working on all aspects of my game but in particular my wedge play and my chipping and putting,” he said. “I am not playing any other events leading up to the Canadian tour school, but I am playing during the week locally and practising for the remainder of the week. I am in the gym four times a week and I’m a big fan of Doctor Bob Rotella’s books.”

Sometimes, though, Fitzgerald relies on knowledge from an even more trusted source, his Glanmire, Co. Cork-based coach, John Dooley.

“I have only ever had two golf coaches in my life so when I got out here and met some of the local ones, I was a bit sceptical, as it takes time to build up a relationship and to really trust your coach,” he said. “So I keep in touch with John Dooley via Skype.

“I spent pretty much the whole summer of 2012 with John at his facility in Glanmire. As John has been a long-time friend it is easy for us to work through things and he can usually pick out what I need to work on.

“I always prioritise my pre-shot routine. To me, its like a comfort zone. If I can execute it on every shot and commit to it, I play my best.

“I feel good about my game, I have become stronger and fitter in the past six months. Having played three PGA Qualifiers, I know I can compete. I’m excited about the tour qualifying and quietly confident about succeeding.”

Irish golf fans may well have to start keeping an eye on Canadian Tour results. Best of luck Andrew.

Let’s not talk up tale of Tiger’s major return yet

Someone who went just a bit further than Fitzgerald at the Farmers Insurance Open in January was a certain Tiger Woods, who landed his first Tour title of the year at Torrey Pines that weekend. On Sunday, the 14-time major winner followed up with success at another of his favourite courses, Doral’s Blue Monster, where the world number two landed the WGC-Cadillac Championship by two strokes from his pal Steve Stricker.

Stricker may well be regretting the putting tips he offered Woods a week or so ago as the former number one notched his 76th PGA Tour title in Miami.

Of course, this is familiar ground for Woods since he returned to the winning enclosure following his meltdown in late 2009. One or two early-season wins and a few scintillating rounds and everybody dusts off their “Is Tiger Back?” headlines for another year, only for the great man to come up short in the majors.

In 2011, some encouraging performances got the Woods hype going before he faded down the stretch at the Masters, finishing fourth behind Charl Schwartzel.

Last year, Woods played some majestic golf, including a 62 in pursuit of Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic, before winning at Bay Hill, then saw his newly constructed Sean Foley swing break down in pursuit of the Green Jacket, trailing home with a tie for 40th.

A month or two later and Tiger really was back with an amazing performance to win the Memorial, only to slip out of the reckoning in the US Open. A third victory of 2012 followed in the AT&T National on July 4 but there was no Star Spangled Banners flying three weeks later at The Open when Ernie Els triumphed with Woods third, four shots back. Nor at the final major of the year as McIlroy romped to victory at Kiawah Island.

Woods may well be back in the winners’ circle and you would not bet against him winning a fifth Masters at Augusta in five weeks. But until he chalks up major number 15, let’s keep our “Return of the Tiger” features on file, shall we?

Maguire’s new game a belter

Talking of the great Irish golfing diaspora, the best of luck to California-based Galway man John Maguire, who last week launched Game Golf, a wearable technology that allows golfers to capture data about their round simply by tapping their club handle against the device attached to their belt, upload it to their smartphones and computers and even share it with friends and colleagues on social media websites.

McGuire moved to Silicon Valley two years ago to develop his Game Your Game product and to try to bring it to market and that dream came to fruition last week, when, with the endorsements of Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, his company gained pre-sales of more than $150,000 in just three days.

“This platform, I’ve never seen anything like it, as far as the ease of use,” McDowell said. “You tag, you go, you hit your shot and really the fun begins at the end of the day when you input the data into your iPad, your iPhone.”

Find out more about Maguire’s product at www.gameyourgame.com.

Happy to learn my lesson at Fota

Having had the actual notion to renew my battle with the golf clubs, I have plunged headfirst into golf lessons. At least, not before the necessary brainwipe that removed all manner of golf tips, swing thoughts, putting strokes and assorted words of “wisdom” that we have all accumulated over the years in search of a decent round.

So, mind suitably decluttered, I have placed myself completely at the mercy of teaching professional Brian Kelleher at Fota Island Golf Academy and what an enjoyable experience it has been, for me at least. The weather may be cold but the two lessons I have had with the ever-patient Brian have been rewarding and, dare I say it, fun. Who’d have thought.


Lifestyle

Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

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