Ryder Cup hero Philip Walton turns 50 today insisting he’s grateful to get a second chance to revive his career on the European Senior Tour.
The popular Malahide man has had a nightmare time since he lost his European Tour card at the end of 2005. But he’s full of hope again today and itching to make his debut alongside the golden oldies in the Mallorca Senior Open on May 11.
Taking a break for his intensive practice regime, Walton said: “It’s a great second chance for me. I’ve been waiting a few years now for this opportunity and the day has arrived. I really want to take full advantage of it. I’m not getting any younger.
“The way the economy is going in Ireland, people here don’t have a lot to look forward to at the moment, so I am one of the lucky ones.
“It’s just a question of getting sharp mentally and physically for competition again and I’ve been working hard to get ready.”
Walton got a major boost last week when the PGA of America sent him a special invitation for May’s US Senior PGA Championship in Michigan.
It will be Walton’s second start as a Senior and after making 495 appearances on the European Tour he’s hopeful he can have a long career on the over-50s circuit.
He said: “I’ll have a five year exemption on the European Senior Tour which is great so it’s something to look forward to. But I am not sure what to expect to be honest with you. It’s going to be a step into the unknown for a while.
“I’ve been playing the pro-am circuit at home for the past few years but it’s going to be a big change getting stuck into three round events. It’s going to take me a few weeks to get used it from the mental point of view, but I can’t wait.
“I’m hoping it won’t take me long to get back into the swing of it and after that, you never know, I might win a few.”
Walton won three times on the European Tour and claimed four Irish PGA titles as well as the 1990 Alfred Dunhill Cup for Ireland
But while his moment of glory came in 1995 when he claimed the winning point for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Oak Hill, it signalled the beginning of the end.
Confessing that the pressure became too much, he said: “In some ways Oak Hill 1995 probably wasn’t the best thing that ever happened me.
“I played okay in 1996, but the real effect began to show in 1997. Something went from me. I felt it, but it’s very hard to explain. Definitely that Ryder Cup did take something from me.
“Maybe it’s that I’m not one for the limelight and I couldn’t easily go for all that stuff. In 1997 I said to myself, ‘I’d love to take a year out’, but I couldn’t do that, so I went on.
“In 1999 I made 13 cuts, all of them in the big-money tournaments, and I made only €28,000. That was the turning point, and once you start slipping in this game, it’s very hard to stop it.”
Ten years after his last appearance in a major, Walton qualified for the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
He missed the cut after a nightmare 82 in the second round and hasn’t played a tour event since then.
He asked his bagman Stephen Byrne to save the red caddie’s bib for his son Rhys in case he never returned to the Open.
But he’ll be back in the big time in July when the Senior Open is played at Turnberry. And he doesn’t rule out a second bite at trying to qualify for the megabucks US Senior Tour after missing out at the Qualifying School last October.
Pal Des Smyth made $4.5m on the Champions Tour circuit and Walton wants to give it another go in the autumn.
Walton said: “Mentally I wasn’t sharp enough for it and that’s the key. Hopefully after a year of competition I’ll be better prepared next time.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and I want to do as well as I can.”