The former major champion is moving his family back to Australia from the United States, and in the process putting his competitive career in limbo
By John Huggan
This isn’t goodbye to the PGA Tour. Not yet, anyway. But early next year, Geoff Ogilvy, wife Juli and their three children, Phoebe, Jasper and Harvey, will be relocating from their current residence in Scottsdale to his hometown of Melbourne in Australia. It’s a big move, both geographically and in terms of the impact it will surely have on the former U.S. Open champion’s career. How he performs inside the ropes over the next few months will largely determine where, when and how much he plays going forward.
“A few months ago we had our annual sit-down to talk about moving,” says Ogilvy, 40, who has won eight times in a 17-year PGA Tour career, including his major at Winged Foot in 2006 and three World Golf Championships events. “We made our ‘pros and cons’ list and the ‘pros’ won the day.”
The one big “con”—apart from leaving behind friends and Juli’s family in Texas—was obvious. It is almost impossible to play a full schedule in the United States while living in Melbourne. But the “pros” were equally clear. Ogilvy will get to live where he grew up and see his children enjoy the education system in Australia (Phoebe, 11, will start high school in the New Year). Plus, OCCM Golf, the architecture business in which he partners with Mike Clayton, Michael Cocking and Ashley Mead, is based in Melbourne.
Until the deed is done though, Ogilvy has some work to do. Work that will need to get better if he is to maximize his professional choices into 2019 and beyond. Now ranked a lowly 415th in the world, Ogilvy has made only four cuts in 14 PGA Tour starts this season, his best finish T-22 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in March. (He started the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson T-29.) He currently sits 205th on the FedEx Cup standings, a long way from the top 125 that would see him exempt for the 2019-’20 season.
Ogilvy needs to play better quickly on the PGA Tour in 2018 if he is to keep his card. Otherwise, he’ll likely forgo playing much in the U.S. and take advantage of his European Tour membership.
“Time will tell what the implications of all this are for my golf,” says Ogilvy, who grew up playing at the Victoria Club, also home for five-time Open champion Peter Thomson, on Melbourne’s famous Sand Belt. “Ideally, I start getting the ball in the hole a bit quicker and shoot a few good scores. Making the top 125 solves a lot of potential problems. If I do that, I will play a lot in the fall to get my numbers up as soon as possible next season. Then I could work out my own schedule after that.
“That said, I’m getting to a point, regardless of where I am living, where I am really not big on playing a massive, full schedule. The kids are getting to a point in their lives where it is really nice for me to be home. It’s not that I don’t like playing golf or competing in tournaments; it’s just that I like being home more. So I have to find a balance.
Ogilvy believes that if he’s only playing 15 or 16 events on the PGA Tour, he can do that comfortably from Australia. “Playing 25-27 is not realistic,” he said. “But we’ll see. Maybe it will all be too arduous, and I have to adjust my thinking. But right now my plan is to make trips lasting maybe four weeks at a time. And if I can maintain my card doing that, then that is what I will do.”
Things will get a bit more complicated if Ogilvy’s current form does not improve. If he were to miss out on the top 150 on the FedEx Cup points list and didn’t gain entry into the Web.com Tour Final Series (where he could also earn back his PGA Tour card), his status would be severely curtailed. Having already used his one-time career-money exemption (he is currently 29th with earnings of $30.4 million), that worst-case scenario would place him in the “past champion” category. Normally, that would mean 10 to 12 starts next season, but only in the tour’s smaller events.
Such an eventuality is understandably not the most appealing for a major champion who peaked at No. 3 in the world. There is, however, another possibility. Purely coincidentally, Ogilvy has re-joined the European Tour, where he played for two years in the late 1990s, having been told he was eligible to do so as a past champion. But it was now-or-never thing.
“I know guys who play the European Tour from Melbourne,” he says. “I might do that. I would really enjoy playing a bit more around the world. I loved playing there. So I’m not discounting doing that.”
Then there is the pull of his increasing involvement in course architecture. One of the most knowledgeable tour pros on this sometimes esoteric subject—it was no coincidence he was summoned to the media center prior to the AT&T Byron Nelson at the links-like Trinity Forest—and high on every journalist’s list of go-to players for the best quotes, Ogilvy is keen to play a bigger role in OCCM’s life going forward.
“I would like to get a bit more involved in the course-design side of things,” he confirms. “I’ve been involved up to now, but not to the degree I would like to. It is something that fascinates me. So I would like to be around the boys in the office and on-site a bit more often. I need to continue my education in that department. And moving will make that easier, which was a big part of our decision to move. Course design was always going to be my future, whatever happened.”
Still, there has been a downside to Ogilvy’s restless mind, interested personality and artistic temperament. None are particularly conducive to life on tour, one dominated by routine and played at venues that are, shall we say, remarkably similar to last week and next week. All too often, Ogilvy’s level of irritation with the courses he is asked to play has led to a drop-off in his performance levels. His enthusiasm for the purely mechanical execution that is range practice also has waned.
“To say I am bored with the PGA Tour would be wrong,” he says. “But my ranting and raving about what I like and don’t like about a course while I am on that course is not necessarily conducive to good scoring. I’m served best by reducing my time on the range and playing a lot more. But that’s difficult in the U.S. if only because the practice facilities are so good. The ranges, the putting greens and the chipping greens are routinely wonderful on tour. And for some people that is great. But that gets my head into my golf swing and out of my shots, if that makes sense.
Conversely, in Australia, the ranges are generally not as good, he says, so that means the game is more about going to play. And in Melbourne, that would mean playing a lot more on the Sand Belt, something that appeals to Ogilvy. “I miss those courses. I will admit that a lot of the courses we play on tour don’t inspire me,” he says. “And the practice rounds don’t help. It is frightening how long they take. It can take six hours to play 18 holes on a Tuesday, which is tedious. What used to be great fun just isn’t any more.
“So my best option is to get out on the course. But that is so painful I am driven back to the range. Which is not the best place for me to prepare. For me, good range work doesn’t often translate into good scores.”
All of which sounds like a man who has made up his mind and can’t wait to go back to the country, the city and the courses he calls home.
“I’ve been longing to go home for a long time—pretty much since the day I left,” he admits. “I’ve always seen myself as a temporary resident in the U.S. Not because I don’t like it here, but because it just isn’t home. I’m excited about the opportunity this represents for my kids. Regardless of what countries we are talking about, to experience multiple cultures while you are growing up is really good for people. And I’m lucky enough to be married to an American lady who is happy to go with me. She actually drove me into this decision. Left alone, I would have waffled around and done nothing.”