Unheralded Morrison leads BMW Championship

James Morrison acknowledges the crowd after holing an eagle putt on the 18th green during the second round of the BMW PGA Championship on the West Course at Wentworth.

James Morrison has only been playing golf for 11 years, yet he’s leading the €4.5 million BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s biggest tournament.

Morrison’s second-round, 8-under 64 gave him the early lead by four over defending champion Luke Donald and Scotland’s David Drysdale. Yet nothing in Morrison’s previous appearances at Wentworth suggested he’d go so low.

In fact, nothing in his past signaled he’d take the lead in Europe’s flagship event.

The 27-year-old Englishman missed the cut here the last two years. He hadn’t broken 70 until his 68 yesterday. His previous scores were 74, 76, 71 and 80 in the second round last year.

Maybe a change of attitude helped this year. “I played dreadful here the last two years because I took it so seriously,” Morrison said.

The Englishman has far bigger things on his mind right now. He and his wife, Jessica, are expecting their first child in two weeks.

Indeed, there is a spot in the U.S. Open for whoever wins this week. As much as Morrison would love to play in his second U.S. Open (he qualified in the 2010 but missed the cut.), it isn’t even in the cards.

“We’ve got a baby due in two weeks, two weeks on Monday. I don’t want to think about what would happen if I went. I wouldn’t go, unfortunately. As hard as it is to turn it down, no.”

Morrison is something of an oddity on the European Tour because he excelled at cricket as a boy. Indeed, he was good enough to play with some of England’s top international stars. Cook made a score of 100 in his last ever game.

Yet at age 17 he turned his back on England’s national sport and turned to the royal-and-ancient game. He only started playing golf at age 16, and after only 10 months his handicap was down to scratch.

“I’m a really determined sort of person. As soon as I started playing it (golf), I fell in love with it. I loved playing the game and went from there.”

Morrison became so good, so quickly that he entered the 2002 British Boys Championship at Carnoustie. He won his first two matches and then defeated Rafael Cabrera-Bello in the third round. He won his fourth round match, too, and then was 4 up against Rhys Davies in the fifth round. Morrison eventually lost when Davies holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the final green.

University of South Carolina coach Puggy Blackman attended that British Boys Championship. The man who tutored David Duval to so much success was so impressed he offered Morrison a scholarship.

Morrison didn’t last long in college golf, though. He didn’t play much his first year and returned home. Even then he didn’t get the respect he probably deserved. Morrison found it hard to crack into the English Golf Union’s elite squad, and had to settle for the rung below, the England A squad.

The man from nearby Chertsey, England turned professional in 2006 off a handicap of plus 4. He made three failed attempts at getting his card between 2006-2008. In 2009 he finished 18th on the European Challenge Tour rankings to gain a card for the 2010 season.

Proof that determination pays off came when Morrison won the won the 2010 Madeira Island Open, lost in a playoff for the Spanish Open and ended up 61st on the money list, just missing the end of season Dubai World Championship by one spot. Last year, he was four spots better, finishing 57th.

Morrison, who resides near Wentworth, has had a slow start this year, with 31st in the Sicilian Open his best showing. He is currently 131st on the money list.

However, he’s made a fast start here. The BMW PGA Championship has seen some strange winners over the years. Morrison’s tale is stranger than most.

Morrison doesn’t need motivation, but is there a better way to celebrate the birth of your first child than by winning Europe’s blue-ribbon tournament?

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