Behind Closed Doors
In the very public world of professional golf, Steven Bowditch has endured a very private hell: his ongoing battle with clinical depression
When Australian Steven Bowditch was just 17, he was paired with Greg Norman in the next to last twosome on the Sunday of his national open. A kid and a legend. Some 30 years apart in age, they were kindred spirits, in a way. A couple of prototypical Queenslanders, people who are not genetically predisposed toward dissecting golf courses, preferring instead to bludgeon them. By then, the legend had already absorbed more than his fair share of golf's body blows. The kid never saw his coming.
On that afternoon in 2000 at Kingston Heath GC, apart from a pleasantry on the first tee, the pair did not speak. Not down the first or the second. Not the third hole or the fourth. Not on the fifth or even the sixth. The seventh was a par 5, down breeze and up over a ridge. "We were on level peggings for the day," Bowditch, now 25, recalls. "He tees it up and gives it his well-known whip back. As I'm going down to put the tee in the ground, he's picking his up. He looks me in the eye and says, 'Now what have you got?' "
This was shark bait no 17-year-old could resist. Bowditch came right out of his shoes. When they climbed over the ridge, he was 25 yards ahead of Norman. They each birdied the hole. On the next tee box the pair duplicated their dance of simultaneously picking up one tee while putting another down. Bowditch savors the memory. "Halfway up he looks me in the eye and says, 'Fair enough.' That's all that was said." That evening, Norman gave Bowditch a lift home in his private jet. Neither one had the trophy, but that ride may well have been the metaphorical high point of a promising career.‘I didn't want to talk to anyone. When people would talk to me, I didn't even know they were talking.’
"Bowdo's just raw talent," says Adam Scott, who is a few years Bowditch's senior. "One of those guys who's gifted with really good hand-eye coordination. When you've got that much talent, it was always just a question of when his game would mature."
Nathan Green, another Aussie, played with Bowditch back home in Australia and in Europe. "He's a larger than life sort of bloke," says Green. "Just one of those great talents. Hits it long. Just great touch. I remember him giving me a short-game lesson. The stuff he knows about the short game and some of the shots he's got is phenomenal."
Nick Flanagan, who won the U.S. Amateur in '03 and plays on the Nationwide Tour, came up a few years behind Bowditch. "I know growing up, he always seemed like he was much older than everyone else, mainly because he looked 10 years older than he actually was," says Flanagan. "He was one of those guys you always heard about, how good he was, how good he hit the ball, how much talent he had. Technique-wise and ability-wise, he was as good as anyone at that age. He was just one of those guys everyone knew was good and everyone was intimidated by."
Michael Clayton, the Australian player/journalist/architect, remembers Bowditch's golf as being, "Reckless. Aggressive. Phil Mickelson to the extreme."
Australians are no less obsessed with finding the next Norman than Americans were about locating the next Nicklaus. Was it supposed to be Steven Bowditch? The odds were always against it, though, in the early days, his name would come up in the conversation. The voodoo curse of potential has been a part of human endeavor since man learned to make stone axes. Sport is littered with flashes of unrefined brilliance that, in the end, don't amount to much. There is no knowing how good Bowditch could have become, or might still. He only turns 26 in June. But, there is reason to believe the hill he has to climb is steep and perilous.
Bowditch grew up in Peregian Beach in Queensland, about an hour and a half north of Brisbane. Bowditch is the third of four children. His father, Barry, was a cement renderer until his body could no longer handle the aching labor, and he quit to sit behind the wheel of a truck. His mother, Robyn, works in the post office sorting mail from 4 a.m. until 9. Having taken up the game at 12, Bowditch quickly became good enough to attend the Kooralbyn International School, a boarding school on the other side of Brisbane, to major in golf. The best-known graduate of Kooralbyn is Scott. Others include Andrew Buckle and Jason Day.
With the body of a stevedore, eyebrows as thick as the first cut of rough, a shock of black hair and a 5 o'clock shadow that arrives before noon, Bowditch turned pro at 18, worked for three months as a greenkeeper and then left Australia to play in Europe. He missed getting his tour card by a shot and kicked around the Challenge Tour (Europe's minor league) for roughly 18 months. By the time he came home, he was more than $100,000 (Aus.) in debt and not yet 21. Disgusted, he quit playing entirely but cold turkey lasted only a few months before he warmed to the game again and returned to the Kooralbyn Resort to work in the pro shop. In 2005 he scraped together a little money, tossed his clubs and a tent in the back of his girlfriend's Subaru and headed off to play the hardscrabble Troppo Tour in north Queensland.