Stephen Dodd holed a 10-foot birdie putt Sunday on Sunningdale Golf Club’s 18th green to follow in the footsteps of such luminaries as Tom Watson, Gary Player and Bernhard Langer in winning the Senior Open Championship. That putt helped him edge Miguel Ángel Jiménez by one shot for the title.
Dodd drove back to Wales that evening and, the following day, he did what he usually does and got up at 5 am. Early morning training? Hardly.
The 55-year-old Dodd is no obvious fitness fanatic. Though he loves his golf, his number-one pastime has nothing to do with the sport. He and his wife, Allison, have six dogs and three cats and, by 5.15 am, they were taking the dogs for their daily walk along the cliffs near the family home. (Allison is a fund-raiser for Angel Watch, an animal rescue operation.)
The above goes a long way towards explaining why our new senior major champion had only played in one of the Legend Tour events in the 19 months before he rolled up at Sunningdale. “It’s difficult for Allison when I’m away,” he explained.
In his comfortable blue top and run-of-the-mill slacks, Dodd almost looked out of place amongst the slick and often heavily sponsored seniors. “He’s never been bothered with that side of things,” said Bradley Dredge, his partner in the Welsh side that won the 2005 WGC-World Cup (an event which, would you believe, has been rudely wiped from the WGC’s on-line archives). Dredge went on to say “Doddy,” as everyone calls him, doesn’t like fuss and frippery: “He’s a legend among the Legends – a truly great player who rarely gets motivated.”
“Nothing fazes him. On virtually every occasion he’s had the chance to win, he’s seized it.”
Another thing Dredge wanted to mention was that his friend had the best of temperaments: “Nothing fazes him. On virtually every occasion he’s had the chance to win, he’s seized it.”
Dodd’s coach, Denis Pugh, describes his pupil as being “up there with Colin Montgomerie, or maybe even higher, in terms of sheer talent.”
Whatever the compliments, Dodd is in no danger of getting carried away. No-one makes a better fist of playing down his feats. For example, after he won at Sunningdale, he embarked on his reply to Pugh’s congratulatory text with the line, “Things kind of got worse as the week wore on.”
All of which is in keeping with the oft-told tale of Dodd’s interview with Tim Barter of Sky Sports after the Welshman won the 2006 European Open. Barter, whose producer would have been looking for an up-beat chat, began by asking how Dodd was feeling in the wake of his win. “Pretty good,” came Dodd’s typical, downbeat response. Barter shifted to the €578,792 cheque. Surely that would prompt a more animated reply. Alas no. “By the time I’ve paid my coach, my caddie and the tax man, there won’t be a lot left,” our hero said.
Everyone has his own Doddy story. Dredge opts for Dodd’s return journey after winning the 2004 Volvo China.
With the ash from Iceland’s Grimsvötn volcano so dire there were no planes flying back to the UK, Dodd took a flight to Rome where, once again, they had cancelled all flights to London. Dodd decided on a taxi to the Channel Tunnel, a 15-hour journey and, once through the tunnel, he boarded another taxi back to his beloved Barry. Had there been the option of hiring a private plane, this most modest of men would have deemed it too ostentatious. He was merely after a practical solution and never mind that the taxi fares would have devoured a sizable chunk of the €127,621 he had just pocketed for his first European Tour victory.
For an equally eccentric journey, what of the trip he made for a lesson with Pugh to hit just six balls?
“It was the shortest lesson I’ve ever given,” Pugh recalls. “Stephen did the three-hour drive to The Wisley and explained that something didn’t feel quite right.
“He hit three balls and I suggested an adjustment to his setup. So he put it right and, after hitting three more balls, he said, ‘That feels great!’ and got in his car and drove home.”
Dodd’s results across the years have been as intriguing as the player himself. Having won the 1989 Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale, he went through 12 stages of European Tour qualifying between 1990 and 2014 and only survived thrice.
But from the end of 2004 to the middle of 2006 there was this inspired run in which he bagged all three of his European Tour titles in addition to the aforementioned WGC-World Cup.
When GGP asked Dodd if his latest win – his fourth on the Legends Tour – was the most satisfying of the lot, he answered in the affirmative and went on to explain why. “Most of my wins are so long ago that I can’t remember the first thing about them,” he said.
He thought he might remember this one rather longer simply because he hadn’t played particularly well other than in his third-round 62.
Meanwhile, there are some perks attached to his Sunningdale success. Not only does he qualify to play on the PGA Tour Champions in America, but he has earned a spot in the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews.
It had given him a lot to think about over the coming weeks and, though he did not mention as much in our chat, you can guarantee the dogs were going to come into the equation.
Top: Stephen Dodd of Wales holed a 10-footer for birdie on the last to win the Senior Open by a stroke.