Geoff Ogilvy will watch the US Open this week from his Melbourne home, just another suburban Australian who’ll set his alarm clock to catch the action at Torrey Pines’ South Course.
It will be an especially poignant week for the 44-year-old: For four years, he and his family were California residents of the coastal city of Del Mar, a 10-minute coastal drive from Torrey Pines. He knows the area intimately. The year’s third men’s major marks 15 years since Ogilvy’s 2006 US Open win at Winged Foot changed his life.
He’ll no doubt be transported back in time – barely a few years ago – when he, too, walked major championship fairways alongside the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, and felt at home in their company.
Ogilvy’s name was on the leaderboard all four days when the 2008 US Open was held at Torrey Pines. He tied for ninth place, five shots behind winner Tiger Woods. Ogilvy was the world’s third-best player then and expected such results.
After plying his trade on the PGA Tour for 17 years, Ogilvy is now back home in Melbourne. He is adjusting to life after nearly two decades in Arizona and California. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly.
“I’d been a little bit jaded in 2018 and hadn’t played that well for a few years,” Ogilvy said. “The last win and bright spots were in the 2014 season ... but then I struggled with my golf, I wasn’t enjoying the travel and the kids were growing up.
“It’s not unusual to feel that way – I think most players out on tour feel like that at some stage. So I thought, ‘I’m done playing 30 events a year. Let’s find a balance, let’s enroll the kids in school here and experience a bit of Australia.’ ”
That balance includes spending an increasing amount of time working for OCM Golf, the course architecture business he runs with Michael Cocking and Ashley Mead. OCM recently won the tender to redesign Medinah No. 3, a major coup for the firm given that club’s storied history as host of five majors and a Ryder Cup.
Ogilvy would admit he is a novice in the course construction business, but he’s had a deep interest in design his entire career.
While compiling a magnificent playing career – that US Open, three World Golf Championship victories and 40th on the PGA Tour’s all-time money winners list – Ogilvy read heavily about the game, its history, and great courses.
“I’m always drawing on my experience of playing great holes at various clubs,” Ogilvy said. “I have played more courses than most, so I contribute to the design debate at OCM that way. I’ve got this database in my head of all the courses I’ve played – and played them in a lot of pro-ams, with a vast range of people with a vast range of ability – so feel I can relate to ‘the average golfer.’
“I’m also a bit of a crash-test dummy. ‘Can you come out here and take a few shots – and we’ll see where they land?’ I’m putting in my 2 cents’ worth about every aspect of the design.
“We’ve just finished Lonsdale Links (an hour’s drive south of Melbourne) and that’s a really fun course. We’ve also just wound up at Shady Oaks, Ben Hogan’s old course in Texas. That opened to rave reviews; everyone loves it. We renovated the main course – and the Little Nine where Hogan used to hit balls.
“My role in the company is less about the construction side – although I’m learning plenty as I’m going – but more about ideas and the creative process. I think my name helps and, having lived in the States for so long, I’ve got a good feeling for the people there in the golf industry and how they work and how to frame arguments, so I think that experience helps, too.”
Ogilvy is a fan of some of the regular PGA Tour stopovers – Riviera, Oakmont, Pebble Beach, Augusta and one or two others – but it’s fair to say other layouts leave him underwhelmed: “I feel I played better courses as an amateur – in the British Amateur, we played Royal St George’s, Turnberry and Muirfield. In the Australian Amateur, I remember playing Royal Adelaide, Royal Sydney and the Grange – all great courses.”
Veteran golf writer Jaime Diaz once described Ogilvy as “the best interview in golf” and “the most thoughtfully verbal player in the game.”
“When you’ve woken up every morning to do what you’ve wanted to do every day since you were a kid – and that’s play golf or go to the gym – it feels a little strange to not be doing that every day.”
Naturally, Ogilvy has his thoughts when asked what he’d do if he could be PGA Tour commissioner for a month.
“I’d try to introduce more interesting courses and set-ups because they can be a bit vanilla,” he said. “And 72-hole stroke play tournaments get a little tedious 35 times a year, so why not try something different?
“Teams of four players could be interesting. It might not be ‘conventional’ golf, but it’d be entertaining. Plenty of other sports are experimenting with different kinds of formats, why not golf? 72-hole events might be the best way to find the best golfer for the week, but it isn’t necessarily the best entertainment.”
So, what else has Ogilvy got planned? Fine-tuning the work of his Geoff Ogilvy Foundation for a start.
He helped organise tournaments through the recent Australian summer where each playing group of three comprised a male professional, female professional and elite amateur. They all played in the same tournament – from different tees – for the same prize.
The Australasian PGA Tour came up with the prize money, and the bigger names in the field helped promote the events.
In one such tournament, Su-Hyun Oh, one of the legitimate world-class players in the field, was tied for the lead with three holes to play. Elvis Smylie, then one of Australia’s brightest amateur hopes, ended up pipping her moments later. He, in turn, was trumped by veteran pro Brad Kennedy, who birdied the last hole to prevail by a shot.
For Ogilvy, the week was a triumph and underscored for him the value of his foundation’s work.
“It was a fantastic week,” he said. “That’s really what we’re trying to do with this Gen Z series which is run by the foundation.
“For ever and ever, there has always been a huge disconnect between professionals and amateurs. When I came back to Australia, I wanted to do something about this without stepping on the toes of Golf Australia.
“The biggest difference-maker for me, as a kid, would have been playing with pros more often. Not trying to win the Thursday club comp, but actually playing with the experienced tour players because they’re the ones who know what the job entails, and what young players need to learn before they head out on tour.
“The foundation evolved out of that … the idea of removing the separation between pro and amateur.”
As a career pro who has been denied tournament golf for more than two years, Ogilvy is desperate to dip his toe back into PGA Tour waters, and perhaps the European Tour, on a limited schedule.
“When you’ve woken up every morning to do what you’ve wanted to do every day since you were a kid – and that’s play golf or go to the gym – it feels a little strange to not be doing that every day,” he said. “In 2021, I’d like to get back and play three blocks of three events, something like that.
“I don’t want to play 30 events a year but playing golf competitively is what I do, right, so I want to scratch that itch every now and then.”