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Dermot Gilleece's Blog : David Carter

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece looks forward to the upcoming Irish open by looking back on one of it's most interesting winners.

Posted May 05, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

David Carter

               Looking through the winners of the Irish Open which returns to Baltray next week under the banner of 3Mobile, one is struck by a sharply contrasting roll of honour.  On the one hand there are illustrious champions such as George Duncan, Bobby Locke, Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam and Padraig Harrington.  And on the other, there are those for whom it was a rare taste of glory.

               In the latter category, players like Patrick Sjoland and the holder, Richard Finch, spring to mind.  And David Carter.  As it happened, the 1998 Irish Open has proved to be the only European Tour win for Carter, who has since dropped among the lower ranks.

               We remember him as a fresh-faced young man, who once thrilled us through his exploits at Druids Glen, and chilled us with a hair-raising account of his brush with death.  And it is hardly surprising that the tournament holds a special place in his heart, though he ended 1998 on a particularly high note on the other side of the world.

               Viewed then as one of the game's more gifted young guns, Carter survived serious stumbles over the notoriously difficult back-nine at Druids Glen, before eventually beating no less a figure than Colin Montgomerie in a play-off.  As it happened, he sank an outrageous, 20-foot bogey putt on the 72nd green to earn a crack at sudden-death and when they came up the 18th hole again, water problems caused the Scot to concede defeat without even reaching the green.

               "The fluctuating emotions of that breakthrough win on the European Tour will always live with me," Carter later recalled in a slightly clipped South African accent, softened appreciably by years away from his native shores.  "I had such a great time, the atmosphere and the people.  I just loved it."

               Appreciation of that Irish Open triumph was sharpened significantly by an awareness of how close he had come to death, only 16 months previously.  It was the Tuesday of Desert Classic week in Dubai in March 1997, and Carter suddenly felt ill on the practice ground.  Concerned for his wellbeing, fellow tournament player Iain Pyman and his travel agent, Kath Longhurst (the illustrious Henry's niece), decided to check on him in his hotel.

               To their horror, they discovered him in his room, in a coma.  It was later established that at the time of their intervention, he had only about three or four hours to live.  After calling a doctor, they were told his condition wasn't especially serious but they insisted that he receive expert help. This led to an emergency opeation to remove fluid from his brain. The operating surgeon attributed the problem to a virus but another expert claimed it was the result of hitting his head in a boating accident earlier in South Africa.

               Though medical opinion differed, the important point was that he went on to make a full recovery, having overcome short-term memory loss.  As he recalled: "During my stay in hospital, Iain would come in to see me in the morning and when he'd return in the afternoon I'd ask 'where were you this morning.'  But otherwise, everything turned out fine.  When you almost die, it is an unbelievable feeling to come back and prove that you are a winner." 

               Four months after Druids Glen, Carter had the decidedly interesting experience of sharing an apartment with Faldo in Auckland, New Zealand where they represented England in the World Cup at Gulf Harbour.  And he spoke later of the powerful influence which Faldo exerted on his golf game, especially his putting, having set him up for each competitive day by preparing a hearty breakfast, no less. And they went on to achieve a famous victory, England's first in the event, by a two-stroke margin over Italy.

               As it happened, 1998 proved to be Carter's most successful year on tour, with the World Cup boosting his tournament earnings to E549,559.  In the wake of that high, however,  he slipped down the Order of Merit from 19th in 1998 to 27th in 1999, then to 76th in 2000, to 85th in 2001 and 124th in 2003.  Last year, he was forced to ply his craft on the Challenge Tour where he earned a modest E10,899 for the season and is now languishing in 899th position in the world rankings.

               So what's gone wrong?  "My top-10 finishes simply dried up," he acknowledged candidly. "And while people claim that things are a lot more competitive these days, it was no cake-walk when I won the Irish Open, what with a play-off against Monty after I had already finished ahead of Ernie Els, Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood, when he was really hot."

               Effectively, Carter had beaten the best around.  And you can't ask for more.


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