A year ago, Oliver Wilson was struggling to hit a fairway. He finally hit paydirt at St. Andrews with a career-changing victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Wilson fired a closing 2-under 70 around the Old Course for a 17-under total, and a one-shot victory over Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Richie Ramsay.
Wilson, 34, earned a check for €625,787 (about $783,000). More importantly, he rejoined the European Tour.
The affable Englishman has been struggling to get his career back on track for the past three years. The former Augusta State player went from competing in the 2008 Ryder Cup to struggling on the Challenge Tour after losing his card in 2011.
He got into the Dunhill Links on a sponsor invitation, only his fourth start of the European Tour season. He has spent most of this year on the Challenge Tour, with little success. He has made only a little more than €11,000 from 16 starts and languishes 102nd on the developmental tour’s money list.
The St. Andrews victory allows Wilson to play the rest of this season on the main tour, providing a two-year exemption.
“I don’t have words for it,” Wilson said. “It’s been 10 years, 11 years coming. There were nine runners-up, and I hadn’t done a whole lot to lose those, but nothing had really gone my way; and this week, to be given a big opportunity by Dunhill to play – I can’t thank them enough to give me an opportunity to do this – I guess it’s what golf’s all about.”
Wilson’s fall down the world pecking order was a mystery. He starred in Great Britain & Ireland’s 2004 Walker Cup victory. He didn’t take long to settle into the European Tour, racking up those nine seconds in four years.
He finished ninth on the European money list the year after his Ryder Cup debut. Then his game vanished. He fell from a high of 35th in the Official World Golf Ranking to 792nd before St. Andrews.
Twelve months ago, Wilson had the yips with the driver. He couldn’t put a ball on a tee for fear of hitting a drive off the planet.
“I can’t really describe how bad it was other than to say it was embarrassing,” Wilson had told Golfweek at the start of this season. “My driving was horrific,” he said. “I was hitting four fairways a round. Half of my missed fairways, the ball was out of play.”
Wilson’s problems stemmed from those nine-second places. The frustration of not getting the victory that so many observers had expected of him pushed him to places he shouldn’t have visited.
“Unfortunately the frustration of not winning grew from finishing second so many times, and not winning made me look at other areas to try and improve and win,” Wilson said. “I let too many people get into my head. As a golfer, you can’t let too many people inside your head.”
He began this year vowing to simplify things.
“I’m going to go back to just being me, just trusting me and making sure I do what’s right, not what other people tell me is right,” he said before the season.
“We all feel there is a formula for the model professional. I’ve been down that route, and I know it’s actually rubbish. I’ve learned enough and spent enough time with top players to know what I need to do.
“I’m pretty confident that I can come through and get my card. I’ve had doubts, but I don’t now. It’s only a matter time.”
His time finally came at the Home of Golf.