- Alistair Tait
Nice guys can finish first
Who says nice guys don’t finish first? Not Ross McGowan, that’s for sure.
The 38-year-old Englishman is a winner again after an 11-year wait with his Italian Open victory. He defeated countryman Laurie Canter by a shot. McGowan’s victory will be one of the most popular this year: he’s one of the nicest guys playing on the European Tour.
I had the pleasure of covering McGowan when he played amateur golf. He always had a smile on his face. That hasn’t changed in the intervening years, despite some hard times.
McGowan learned his craft in American college golf, attending the University of Tennessee. He turned professional after winning the 2006 English Amateur by defeating Oliver Fisher in the final.
Nobody was surprised when it took him just three years to win his first European Tour event, the 2009 Madrid Masters. He also finished runner-up in that year’s DP World Tour Championship. That finish put him in with an outside chance of making the 2010 European Ryder Cup team. Yet he lost his card after the 2011 season when he finished 151st on the money list. He then spent the next seven years in the European Tour wilderness.
He made six trips to the European Tour Qualifying School in that time, with just two successes in 2015 and 2017. On both occasions, he couldn’t take advantage and lost his card. He’s certainly taken advantage of a chance to play on this year’s reduced European Tour schedule. Mind you, there was nothing from his previous 13 starts to suggest he’d win in Italy. He’d missed six cuts, with a best place of T42 in the Portuguese Open.
"My head is going full blast at the moment,” McGowan said after picking up the €160,650 winner’s cheque. “Obviously I’m very happy, not happy with the way I played particularly but I got the ball in the hole which in the past has been my nemesis, so it was nice to be able to do that this week.
"I didn’t really foresee this. My form hasn’t been great. But I felt like I was playing better, definitely around the greens. I’m not sure I was expecting to be quite as bad as it was today but at the same time it’s moving forward now.
“I think I’m going to have to go now and have a nice big glass of red wine and think about what’s next.”
What’s next is surely renewed belief he truly belongs on European Tour? As for Canter, he had a chance to get his first European Tour win, but struggled to a closing 72. He said:
"I just need to be happy with the finish. It’s a good week. I played a lot of good golf and hopefully I am going to have a long career out here, but days like that obviously hurt. I’ll need to just think for a little bit, for a day or two, and reflect on what I didn’t do today. Hopefully I can have an opportunity to put it right. I’d love to win obviously, but we’ll see."
Canter is another affable Englishman who had a sterling amateur career. He won the 2010 South African Amateur and 2011 Spanish Amateur, and seemed set for a decent professional career. However, he’s made eight trips to the Qualifying School and has yet to find a permanent foothold on the main European Tour. There are positive signs this year: Italy was his second runner-up following the Portugal Masters.
His reaction to McGowan’s win says it all about Canter's character, and how great this game is. Canter tweeted:
“A gentleman to play with @RossMcGowan and thoroughly deserved win. Personally, lots of positives and clearly a few areas to work on. See you in Cyprus @EuropeanTour”
A Canter win surely can’t be far away? After all, McGowan proved in Italy that nice guys can finish first.
#JustSaying: “We are right there on the edge every week, trying our best. Everyone who goes out on the first tee is exposing themselves, almost like they are in stage at a rock concert. You are playing with your heart and your soul. In normal life you can get by not exposing yourself fully, but if we're going to be any good, we'd better be fully committed." Robert Karlsson
Picture by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour