Gary Wolstenholme

28th November 2019

Gary Wolstenholme will forever be known as “The man who beat Tiger” in the 1995 Walker Cup match at Royal Porthcawl.

There is of course much more to his story than a single win though.

Wolstenholme’s record and commitment to the amateur game is simply unparalleled. Given his longevity and the era in which he played, with its greater depth, he is arguably Great Britain & Ireland’s (GB&I) greatest ever amateur golfer.

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Gary Peter Wolstenholme MBE was born in Egham, Surrey on 21st August 1960.

His father was Guy Wolstenholme a renowned amateur and professional golfer in the 1950s and ’60s. Peter Alliss is one of Gary’s god-parents due to his long friendship with his father. Sadly Guy died from cancer in October 1984 well before his son’s golfing peak.

Gary’s parents divorced when he was four years old and it was his mother Joan, and her parents, that brought Gary up in Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. When he was 10 the family moved to Keighley in Yorkshire and Gary was sent off to boarding school at Giggleswick. He completed his schooling there save for an 18 month period when he moved to Melbourne, Australia as his parents tried in vain to make their relationship work again.

He first played golf when he was 4 years old but didn’t start taking it seriously until he was 17. His father actively discouraged him knowing only too well how making a career in golf was fraught with difficulties. Gary was a 23 handicap when he was 18 and whilst he dropped his handicap rapidly thereafter still only earned his first England cap when he was 27.

Always a short hitter off the tee he practiced for many hours to ensure he got the maximum out of his game. His consistency, short game and confidence in his own ability enabled him to overcome many a supposedly stronger player in his lengthy career.

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Wolstenholme won The Amateur Championship twice. In 1991 he beat Bob May (USA) 8&6 at Ganton GC and in 2003 he beat Raphael De Sousa (SUI) 6&5 at Royal Troon GC.

His 2003 win came when he was 42, making him one of the oldest champions in the history of this prestigious competition.

46E91CCE-5D1B-4A72-8193-54D51AA6C00E

Gary Wolstenholme With The Amateur Championship In 2015 (Photo: Age Partnership)

In his long career Gary won numerous other national and international titles (see Appendix 1), including the Golf Illustrated Gold Vase, the Duncan Putter (3), the Berkshire Trophy (3), the Welsh Stroke Play, the Scottish Stroke Play, the Sherry Cup (4), the Lagonda Trophy and the Lee Westwood Trophy.

However, like his career amateur predecessor Peter McEvoy, the English Amateur Championship always alluded him. Whilst his father was a two-time winner the closest Gary came to lifting the trophy was a 4&2 loss to Paul Casey in the 2000 final at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. It was his only defeat in a major final.

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Gary played in five Majors – the 1992 and 2004 Masters, the 1992 (Muirfield) and 2003 (Royal St. George’s) Open’s and the 2008 U.S. Open (Torrey Pines) – but missed the cut in all of them.

He played with a 62 year old Arnold Palmer in round 1 of the 1992 Masters and recorded an even par 72 at Augusta. In 2004 he was paired with Tom Watson shooting 77 and 76.

He made more of an impression with some of the other professional tournament invites he received. He was the leading amateur at the 1993 Benson and Hedges International and 2004 British Masters and also made the cut at the 1992 Australian Masters.

He was also invited to play in the 1992 Memorial Tournament by Jack Nicklaus.

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Throughout his long career Wolstenholme derived the most satisfaction from his team selection for England, GB&I and Europe.

He is the most capped player in world amateur golf, playing 218 times for England. Between April 1988 and 2008 he won 130 games, halved 25 and lost 63, earning 142.5 points for his country.

England won the Home Internationals 13 times and the European Men’s Team Championships at Hillside in 2005 with Gary in the team. Gary played seven times for England in the latter competition between 1997 and 2007.

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Wolstenholme has consistently stated over the years that winning the Eisenhower Trophy for GB&I in Chile in 1998 was the highlight of his golfing career.

All four of Gary’s scores counted in the 72 hole event, including a final round 67 which helped take the four man GB&I team 4 shots clear of Australia and USA.

Having the golf medal placed around his neck while the national anthem was playing was his crowning glory.

In addition to 1998 he also played in the World Amateur Team Championship for GB&I in 1996 (Philippines) and, after each home nation started to enter separately, England in 2002 (Malaysia) and 2004 (Puerto Rico).

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Gary played on six Walker Cup teams, at Royal Porthcawl (1995), Quaker Ridge (1997), Nairn (1999), Ocean Forest (2001), Ganton (2003) and finally Chicago (2005).

He is the all-time leading points scorer for GB&I. He played 19 games in total, 11 Singles and 8 Foursomes, winning 5 of each (see Appendix 2). His wins against Tiger Woods in 1995 and Anthony Kim 10 years later being the obvious highlights. Unsurprisingly one rarely hears the second part of the Woods story which is that the two of them played again in the Day 2 Singles and that Tiger won relatively easily.

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Tiger Woods and Gary Wolstenholme At Porthcawl in 1995 (Photo: Sunday Times)

He was on the winning side four times; an impressive stat when one remembers GB&I have only won nine times in the 46 matches played since the contest started in 1922.

His leading points winner and most match win records are almost certainly never going to be broken due to the much changed nature of the amateur game.

Given his commitment to amateur golf and his status in the history of the Walker Cup it is disappointing that The R&A have not found themselves able to afford him the captaincy of the GB&I team to date (even accepting that he eventually turned professional).

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In 1998 the Bonallack Trophy match between Europe and Asia-Pacific started. Wolstenholme was selected for Europe on four occasions in 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2006. Europe won three of these matches and Gary holds the record for both the most games played and most points scored.

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Gary’s late blossoming meant he never really considered turning pro during his amateur career. He was simply never good enough while young enough and likewise when he became good enough he considered himself too old to embark on such a pursuit. He was also realistic enough to appreciate he didn’t have the finances to do so either. His somewhat nomadic life, he moved from Leicestershire to Bristol and then back again, meant he never really enjoyed a home fanbase which could have helped him attract local start-up sponsorship.

In September 2008, having just turned 48, Wolstenholme finally turned professional.

Whilst no one could begrudge Gary the opportunity to belatedly try and cash in on his years of hard work on the golf course he left the amateur ranks a little disillusioned. Both The R&A and England Golf had indicated to him that they wanted to focus on younger players going forward. If this was not bad enough neither party also seemed keen for him to play a role in helping to develop this next generation, something he had hoped for and perhaps expected.

Presented with little alternative, if he wished to continue playing golf competitively, he took the plunge; his theory being to acclimatise on development tours ahead of playing the Senior Tour after he turned 50 in 2010.

Shortly before this he had sold his house in Leicestershire and moved back in with his mother in Cumbria. He started an attachment with Carus Green Golf Club in Kendall as a result which continues to this day.

His first professional win came in July 2010 in the Stoke-By-Nayland event on the PGA EuroPro Tour where he shot a 63 in round 2 on his way to a -15 4-shot victory. At 49 years and 313 days old I assume he must be the oldest ever winner of a PGA EuroPro Tour event.

Gary made an impressive start to life on the European Senior Tour (now the Staysure Tour) in the Autumn of 2010. He finished third in his first event, the Travis Perkins Masters at Woburn, before winning the €90,000 first prize next time out at the 2010 Casa Serena Open (-13 by 3 shots) in the Czech Republic.

Wolstenholme went on to win a further two events; the 2012 Mallorca Open Senior (-8 by 2 shots) and the 2012 Benahavis Senior Masters (-13 by 1 shot).

He is currently playing his tenth season on the Staysure Tour. As at November 2019 he has played in 134 events and has to date amassed career prize winnings of €926,069.65. His decision to turn pro therefore appears to have been a good one.

He also won the 2011 ISPS Handa Australian Senior Open.

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Gary Wolstenholme Receives His MBE In May 2007 (Photo: Daily Mail)

Wolstenholme was awarded an MBE (for services to golf) in the 2007 New Year’s Honours list. “It’s a great honour and I’m very proud,” he said at the time. “This means everything to me. It salutes the sacrifices I’ve made to the game over the past 20 years but this is not just for me. It is also for those people who have helped me achieve what I have. Those at my club Kilworth Springs (where he was the Director of Golf for eight years), those who have coached me over the years, the people who helped me when I was in Bristol, and especially my mother without whom I wouldn’t have achieved anything.”

‘The Long and the Short of It: The Autobiography of Britain’s Greatest Amateur Golfer’ by Gary Wolstenholme (and Sunday Times journalist Derek Clements) was published by John Blake Publishing on 4th October 2010. It is dedicated to his mother Joan and presents an honest story of his career in the game.

Book Gary Wolstenholme

Gary’s AutobiographyThe Long And Short Of  It’ (Photo: GolfBible)

Over the years he has also been given honorary memberships at Berkhamsted GC, The Berkshire GC, Bristol & Clifton GC, County Sligo GC, GC of Georgia (USA), Grange-over-sands GC, Heysham GC, The Leicestershire GC, Morecambe GC, Scarborough North Cliff GC and Trevose G&CC.

In 2005 Wolstenholme was invited to join The R&A only for the invitation to be subsequently withdrawn by Chief Executive Peter Dawson after a couple of members, one presumably very senior, surprisingly ‘blackballed’ him for being “not suitable”.

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Gary Wolstenholme was sometimes viewed by his peers as a loner, an outsider; superstitious and a little eccentric on the one hand but occasionally arrogant and aloof too.

Having played most of his golf with players much younger than himself it was perhaps inevitable that some found it hard to build a rapport with him. The truth is Gary probably didn’t want them to. Like a great many champions he did what he believed to be necessary to fulfil his potential and get the job done.

For me his playing record and achievements certainly outweigh any character flaws that he may have had. He often talked about setting his name in stone within the history of the game. As the only amateur to win on all five continents he has undoubtedly done that.

GB&I amateur golf supporters owe him a debt of gratitude for the service he gave to his country over 20 years. Many of his playing records will never be broken and he will rightly take his place in history as our last great career amateur.

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Appendix 1 – Other Amateur Victories

1986 & 2002 – Midland Open Stroke Play

1987 – West of England Open Stroke Play

1989 – Golf Illustrated Gold Vase

1993 – Chinese Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship

1994, 1996 & 1999 – Duncan Putter

1994, 1996, 1998 & 2001 – English County Champion of Champions

1995 – United Arab Emirates Amateur,

1995, 1996 & 1998 – British Mid-Amateur Championship

1996 – Finnish Amateur Stroke Play Championship,

1996, 1997 & 2002 – Berkshire Trophy,

1997 – Welsh Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship

1998 & 2006 – St Mellion International Amateur Stroke Play

2000 & 2001 – Sherry Cup Invitational Stroke Play

2002 – Lagonda Trophy

2002 – South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship

2003 – Scottish Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship

2004 – Georgia Cup Match (v. US Amateur champion Nick Flanagan)

2005 – New South Wales Medal

2006 – South of England Open Stroke Play

2006 & 2007 – European Mid-Amateur Championship

2007 – New South Wales Amateur Championship

2008 – The Lakes Medal

2008 – Lee Westwood Trophy (his last ever amateur competition)

Appendix 2 – Walker Cup Results

1995 Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, Wales

GB&I 14 v. 10 USA

Day 1 Foursomes
Not selected

Day 1 Singles
W v. Tiger Woods by 1 hole

Day 2 Foursomes
L with L James v. G E Marucci Jnr & J Courville Jnr by 6&5

Day 2 Singles
L v. Tiger Woods by 4&3

1997 Quaker Ridge Golf Club, New York, USA

USA 18 v. 6 GB&I

Day 1 Foursomes
L with K Nolan v. J Gore & J Harris by 6&4

Day 1 Singles
L v. J Harris by 1 hole

Day 2 Foursomes
W with J Rose v. R Leen & C Wollman by 2&1

Day 2 Singles
L v. D Delcher by 2&1

1999 The Nairn Golf Club, Scotland

GB&I 15 v 9 USA

Day 1 Foursomes
W with P Rowe v. M Kuchar & B Molder by 1 hole

Day 1 Singles
Not selected

Day 2 Foursomes
W with P Rowe v. M Kuchar & B Molder by 4&3

Day 2 Singles
W v. D Gossett by 1 hole

2001 Ocean Forest Golf Club, Georgia, USA

USA 9 v 15 GB&I

Day 1 Foursomes
W with S O’Hara v. D Green & DJ Trahen by 5&3

Day 1 Singles
L to E Compton by 3&2

Day 2 Foursomes
Not selected

Day 2 Singles
W v. N Cassini by 4&3

2003 Ganton Golf Club, England

GB&I 12.5 v 11.5 USA

Day 1 Foursomes
L with M Skelton to B Haas & E Kuehne 2&1

Day 1 Singles
L to B Haas by 1 hole

Day 2 Foursomes
W with O Wilson v. B Haas & E Kuehne 5&4

Day 2 Singles
W v. C Wittenberg 3&2

2005 Chicago Golf Club, Illinois, USA

USA 12.5 v. 11.5 GB&I

Day 1 Foursomes
Not selected

Day 1 Singles
L v. J Holmes by 1 hole

Day 2 Foursomes
Not selected

Day 2 Singles
W v. A Kim by 1 hole

ME.

Copyright © 2015-2019, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

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