Kenneth Ferrie slept well the night before and never considered how that Sunday could be a life-changer.
But soon enough it hit him: The little-known Englishman was beginning the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open tied for the lead. Millions of eyes would be on the final group of Ferrie and Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot.
“By the time I got to the first tee, I was absolutely petrified,” he said.
Ferrie would post a closing 6-over 76 and drop to a tie for sixth at 8 over. Still, his seemingly out-of-nowhere brush with U.S. Open contention struck a nerve.
“To a lot of people, I was kind of the unknown total fluke,” Ferrie said.
Twelve years later, he remains a believer in his abilities.
Ferrie, 39, a three-time winner on the European Tour, hasn’t played an event on the circuit in two years, and his last full season on any tour came in a 15-event campaign on the Challenge Tour in 2013.
Is it a case of burnout?
Slightly. The pro-golf grind did wear on Ferrie, who lost his European Tour card in 2012 and had a tough time finding starts. Mainly, though, health has held him back.
Ferrie woke up one day at the 2016 Spanish Open and felt a bit stiff in the neck. It was nothing more than a minor nuisance until his next event three weeks later in Morocco.
“I literally got to the point where I could barely walk,” he said. “I was just in that much pain.”
Ferrie withdrew, underwent MRIs and was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc in his neck. He had a few options. There was surgery, but the risks sounded severe. He also could get injections to deal with the pain, but that wasn’t a long-term solution.
Instead, he’s tried yoga, Pilates, acupuncture, whatever has been suggested, to alleviate the issue. Years later, it still persists. He can go a month or so feeling fine before issues pop up again. Four-round tournaments are difficult to handle as pain and weakness in his left arm linger.
“I haven’t found the magical cure yet,” Ferrie said.
Ferrie is in limbo. While the injury is manageable and doesn’t stop him from enjoying day-to-day life, he can’t practice enough to get his game in shape for another run at the European Tour.
He hasn’t given up, though.
“There’s still a light burning somewhere thinking I might get back out there one day,” Ferrie said.
He keeps active. He and wife, Lisa, are based in Newcastle, England and look after a number of properties they bought years ago. Along with that business, Ferrie recently has started consultant work with a golf course design company. From time to time he competes in local pro-am events.
Just last year Ferrie was feeling good and went out for second stage of European Tour Q-School. But for just the second time in his pro career, his clubs didn’t arrive for the tournament. He had to use a rental set, shot 71-77 and withdrew.
“It was like a comedy of errors,” Ferrie said.
Ferrie still is recognized at times for being in contention at the 2006 U.S. Open.
He recalls that after putting out for a third-round 71 to share the lead, he got into a quick conversation with Geoff Ogilvy, expressing his excitement at playing with Mickelson the following day. Ogilvy, knowing how boisterous the pro-Mickelson New York crowds would be, smiled and replied, “Good luck with that.”
Ogilvy would go on to win that Open.
There was also the matter of Ferrie’s first-tee jitters. He was so nervous that he put his ball on the tee a good five minutes early.
“The first thing I did was tee my ball up because I really didn’t think I would actually be able to get my ball on the tee when I needed to,” Ferrie said, laughing.
After his performance at Winged Foot, Ferrie tried his hand on the
PGA Tour in 2008. But before his first event, his father, John, died after a long bout with lung cancer.
Ferrie still played his season-opening Sony Open – that’s what dad would’ve wanted – and opened 66-70. He then got food poisoning and withdrew, spending his Saturday in the hospital. Then he flew back for his dad’s funeral. He coped with his dad’s death for much of the season and finished 182nd on the money list.
A return to the European Tour paid dividends, as he earned his third career victory in 2011.
Ferrie will compete in British Open qualifying in June. Any more aspirations of a return remain up in the air. The desire hasn’t faded, though.
“I’d like to give it one last proper go if I could,” Ferrie said.
(Note: This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Golfweek.)