Peter Lonard during a practice round at The Lakes Golf Club this week.
45 year old Peter Lonard, a two time winner of the Emirates Australian Open, is this week playing the event at a golf course he knows well.
After all Lonard is a member at the Lakes Golf Club and as the most prolific winners of domestic titles in Australia over the last ten years then he should, on paper at least, deserve consideration as a possible contender.
Lonard has not only won two Australian Opens in that period he has also won three PGA Championships and an Australian Masters title so his credentials are there for all to see. In all he owns eight significant Australian PGA Tour titles.
The problem for Lonard however is that in the past three years he has struggled to return to the elite of Australian golf following hip and knee surgery in early 2010.
The surgery was a success but having lost PGA Tour status late in 2009 it was always going to be a long way back following his recuperation period and so it has proved. Lonard took virtually all of 2010 away from golf apart from a tilt at the PGA Tour School late in 2011 where he managed to make it through Stage Two before finishing well back at the Final Stage.
Because of his record on the PGA Tour however he did have status on the Nationwide Tour in 2011 but struggled for much of the year and it has been much the same in 2012, recording only one top ten in 23 starts. He finished 82nd on what has since become the Web.Com Tour money list and will retain only limited status on that Tour in 2013.
"The aim is to head back there and get going early, as, if I can put together a couple of good finishes in the first few events then I can be well positioned for the re-rank," said Lonard during his practice round at The Lakes yesterday. "I managed to put together a few good finishes early this year that helped me get ongoing starts so fingers crossed it will be the same again."
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Lonard played the PGA Tour for eight consecutive years after gaining the right to play there via Tour School in late 2001. In his rookie season he made his first 22 cuts in succession and finished the year with earnings of more than US$1.4 million.
Lonard has since earned more than US$9 million in his PGA Tour career alone but the highlight no doubt came in 2005 when he broke through to win the MC Heritage Classic at one of the PGA Tour's outstanding layouts, defeating Darren Clarke down the stretch.
Lonard's Australian Open victories came at Moonah Links on the Mornington Peninsula in 2003 and the following year at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.
What are his memories of those victories. "Well with both of them I was really just hanging around the lead and things began to develop on the Sunday. The first one came out of the blue really and I remember making a slow start to the final round before things started going my way. In the end it was pretty much a case of me being the last man standing.
"I was beginning to get a little frustrated at the Australian also when I reeled off something 22 consecutive pars through that Saturday and Sunday round before putts began to drop early in the back nine on the Sunday. In the end I had to wait for Stuart Appleby to finish and when he missed his birdie putt at the last I had won."
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So what did winning the Australian Open mean to Peter Lonard?
"Well as an Australian to win your national open I think is something we all strive for as golfers. Probably for me personally however neither was what I would consider my most significant win. They were important but if I was honest I would say my win the 1997 Australian Masters had more impact on my career.
"At that time I was the Club Professional at Oatlands and was determined not to go back on Tour full time until I had won. I had run second on a few occasions but felt that a victory would be the turning point and determining factor as I was still running the Pro Shop at Oatlands. Funnily enough during the Johnnie Walker Classic at Hope Island just a few weeks before the Masters I was playing with Freddie Couples and he asked what the tags were on the clubs I was using. They were actually price tags as they were clubs from the pro shop that I had forgotten to take off?
"That is not meant to downplay my Australian Open victories as they were very special to me, especially the one at the Australian Golf Club in my home town of Sydney but in terms of career altering wins then my first win at Huntingdale Golf Club changed the course of my life."
So how does Lonard feel about his chances this week? "My game is just bubbling along. I have played very little since the Second Stage of the Tour School in mid November so am not sure how it will go. Obviously I play here a lot when I am at home in Sydney so the course will be no real problem but I have no real idea how this week will work out."
"My game was very erratic for most of the year. There was some good stuff but a lot of the other. I played a lot of events well for 3½ rounds but would then make a mess of nine holes.
"Next year I want to work hard on eliminating my mistakes and hopefully get myself into a position where I can schedule things a little better then was the case this year. I was forced into it this year to some extent and it became a catch twenty two in some respects as the more I played and failed the more I needed to play to make up for lost ground."
The image of Peter Lonard became synonymous with the long putter. Much of his success was achieved with a putter he hinged to his chest. Now that moves are in place to have the anchoring of such putters banned in a few years what are Lonard's thoughts?
"Well I am using the short putter this week - in fact I have putted horribly with the long putter for much of this year so I don't feel I am missing out on much. I guess I am in two minds. For the elite of the game I think it is probably a good thing that they are taking the stance they are but there are plenty of people out there who play the game for enjoyment who get a lot of just that by being able to putt a lot better with longer putters."
Interestingly Lonard's only win on the PGA Tour came when he switched to the long putter just a couple of days after missing the cut at the Masters in 2005. A few days later he was putting beautifully with the short putter around the great layout that is Harbour Town at Hilton Head and his first and only USPGA Tour title to date was his.
At 45 Lonard is in the twilight of his regular tour career but despite his, at times, flippant one off lines there is a steely determination and stubbornness about Lonard that suggests there is life in the old dog yet.