Wood’s year to remember can have one glorious final chapter

Triumph: Team Europe celebrate winning the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur (Photo by Getty Images)

Triumph: Team Europe celebrate winning the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur (Photo by Getty Images)

By Graham Otway

TWO THOUSAND years ago the ancient Romans coined the phrase in Latin “Omne trium perfectum”, which can be broadly translated into the modern English equivalent “good things happen in threes”.

And as Bristol’s Chris Wood enters the final countdown for his Ryder Cup debut for Europe next week, he is under no illusions what needs to happen if he is to complete a personal hat-trick of memorable times.

Last month he married his long-time girlfriend Bethany and soon had another reason to celebrate when, after two months of injury doubts, he automatically qualified as one of the six rookies in Darren Clarke’s team to play at Hazeltine.

When added to the biggest win of his golfing career in the star-studded BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, many golfers would say Wood has already passed the finishing line.

But the 29-year-old says if he could be a part of the European team that makes Ryder Cup history by beating the Americans for a fourth successive time, it would complete the package.

“The whole year has already been a bit of a dream come true,” he said with the broadest of smiles. “The wedding was great and winning such a big event as the PGA in front of all my friends and family was very special.

“Now I’ve got into the Ryder Cup team. Winning at Wentworth was special but I have always wanted to play for Europe as well so that’s been sorted. Now if we can beat the Americans over there it’s going to be such a great experience.”

Yet the roads to reaching the milestones he has been passing of late have not provided the smoothest of surfaces.

Looking back at the marriage, he revealed that he had advised his parents to take out wedding insurance in case it had to be postponed if he had to play that weekend in the Czech Masters to pick up vital last-minute Ryder Cup qualifying points.

That proved unnecessary but a severe weather warning threated his plans for an outdoor wedding reception and while rain forced some of the champagne to be drank indoors in the end, he said: “ It may have been horrible outside, but it was fantastic day – just great.”

The year-long route into qualifying for the Ryder Cup for the first time also had its fair share of ups and downs.

Soon after the points tables were set in motion, he played alongside Clarke in the 2015 Race to Dubai end-of-season final series, in the Turkish Airlines Open.

He must have impressed the captain shooting 66 in each of the opening two rounds en route to finishing fifth behind the eventual French winner Victor Dubuisson.

That set the stage for him to play for Europe in the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur in January. Wood admitted he was impressed with the way the captain handled the dressing room during the emphatic 18½-5½ victory.

Wood earned two out of a possible three points from his matches and said: “Darren was captain there. The videos he played in our team room, they give you goosebumps, and things like that really work for me. After that all I wanted this season was to give myself a chance to try and qualify for the Ryder Cup.”

Breakthrough: Chris Wood celebrates the biggest win of his career, in the BMW Championship at Wentworth (photo by Getty Images)

Breakthrough: Chris Wood celebrates the biggest win of his career, in the BMW Championship at Wentworth (photo by Getty Images)

The next meeting between the pair, with the Ryder Cup the central topic of conversation, was on the chipping green at Royal Troon the day before the start of the The Open.

With the Wentworth victory already in the bank, Wood on paper already looked to be a shoo-in for the European team. But during the previous month had suffered from a neck injury that forced him to miss the previous week’s Scottish Open.

Just 24 hours before he pulled out of The Open, after playing just 12 holes because he was in too much pain, he asked Clarke whether he would still promise him a Ryder Cup wildcard if the injury robbed him of an automatic qualifying place.

But with so many rookies already pressing for claims in his team, Clarke felt unable to give him that guarantee.

“In fairness to Chris, he specifically came to find me on the chipping green and explained his whole situation to me,” Clarke said. “I thought that was very, very respectful of him. But at the very start I said it would be very, very difficult to pick a rookie.”

Looking back on his month of pain, Wood said: “ There was about three weeks when I just couldn’t hit a shot and when I went over to America to play in the USPGA the only practice I had was hitting about 20 shots around 100 yards.

“That was no way to prepare for a Major when I was looking to cement my place in the Ryder Cup team.

“I had a blocked joint in my neck which was pressing on nerves and I had an MRI scan. But at times it was so bad that I felt that my head was a 100kg weight pressing down on my shoulders.

“But thankfully after treatment the neck is fine now and I am starting to play solid golf again.”

Wood has not been in contention in any of three events he has recently played in Europe but there have been subtle signs that his best form is starting to return.

In the European Masters at Crans Sur Sierre although he could only finish 49th he did produce scores of 69 and 68 and in last week’s Italian Open he shot a second-round 63.

Now he looks firmly on the right track as he packs his bags, ready to join the rest of the European team on their jet to Minnesota at the start of next week. Doubtless, there is one story he will regale them with on the journey.

He has played Hazeltine, making his USPGA debut there in 2009. He made the cut but could only finish in a tie for 76th place after shooting 77 and 79 in the final round.

But that disappointing finish is very much the second memory of his visit to the town of Chaska. He can recall being questioned for two hours by a gun-toting Sheriff.

“I guess I stood out being taller than everyone else, with straggly hair and a backpack,” recalled Wood.

“The next thing I knew I was being taken to this detention room where this Sheriff with his gun was asking me all sorts of questions.

“I guess looking back it was one of those life lessons you learn but it was a very uncomfortable experience at the time.”

The fact that he can laugh about that experience seven years down the line suggests Wood will be able to handle the hostility aimed at him by American fans when the action at Hazeltine gets underway next Friday.

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