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A Throwback from the Outback

Steve Elkington has spent 18 fun-filled years on tour, and now he'd like to tell you all about it

"I've won some tournaments," says Elkington, here this year at Riviera, where he won the 1995 PGA. "I can enjoy myself."

Photo: J.D. Cuban

June 2004

Flora, fauna and fun.

They will be yours in abundance when you visit the Elkington residence that graces a cul de sac near the Champions Golf Club in Houston, where Steve, an 18-year veteran of the PGA Tour, polished his craft. While attending college in Houston, after having been recruited from his native Wagga Wagga in Australia ("not far from Gumly Gumly"), Steve met wife Lisa. Inside and outside their airy home, they have two children, two dogs, 40 birds and a smashing array of plant life — his vegetable garden in the back and 5,000 tulips contributing to a kaleidoscope of color in the front.

While Steve admits to being a throwback, as evidenced by the many antique furnishings throughout the house, he is a modern man in many ways, and a typical Aussie — witty, pragmatic and adaptable to everything, including baseball.

Elkington is also perceptive, and opinionated, on the comings and goings of professional golf. He rues the fact that the young guns lack the panache and personality of those in his age group, he stresses that the fertile mind of pal Greg Norman is needed on the PGA Tour, and he scoffs at much of what the media puts out there. Elkington is such an interesting subject that one can forget his estimable accomplishments: 10 PGA Tour victories and more than $10 million in career earnings include the 1995 PGA Championship and two Players Championships (which he gently reminds annually produce the strongest fields), and he was part of a four-man playoff for the 2002 British Open that went to Ernie Els. When Elkington is on his game and healthy, he is formidable indeed. Alas, he has experienced some unusual infirmities.

Thus, when a writer extends a typical American greeting — "How are you?" — Elkington can offer a tart, tongue-in-cheek reply that might not be described as conventional. To summarize, Elkington is difficult to beat on the course — or in a war of words.

Golf Digest: I would start by saying, "How are you?" except that's probably not what you want to hear.
Elkington:
Oh, don't beat yourself up over that. It's just that in Australia we don't greet people like that. When you see someone, you say, "Good morning" or "G'day, mate."

You don't ask, "How are you?" or "How are you feeling?"
One reason I don't ask you, "How are you?" is because I really don't care. [Laughs.] Plus, I'm a bit sensitive when people ask about my health. If Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, came up to me, he would probably say, "Good to see you." But he's a little more diplomatic than you.

You are a bit sensitive to questions about your well-being.
True, but I've been out on tour for 18 years, and in the course of that time, I've probably missed a year. Which is less than 10 percent, not bad for a career. It's really a blip. I refuse to let people dot my career with that.

Well, you have had some unconventional ailments.
Like my last debacle with the shoulder, you mean? I was skiing on my birthday — Dec. 8, 2002 — and some drunk in an orange suit came from the other side of the mountain and wiped me out. I'd had a few, too, or else I could have gotten out of the way. I mean, I'm perfectly capable of getting hurt on my own without somebody helping me. I thought I broke my shoulder right there, but I came back from skiing, had an MRI at home in Houston, and it didn't show anything. So I tried to play with it through the pain, which I did, until the British Open.

What happened there?
First round, I'm playing with Colin Montgomerie at Royal St. George's, which was a joke, the way it was set up. On the seventh hole, Monty walks over to me and says, "I've come to inform you that I have to retire." I thought to myself, What, forever? He says his wrist hurt. OK, see ya.

Meanwhile, since the drunk in the orange suit hit me, I'm playing with a torn rotator cuff, only I don't know it. I went down to hit a ball out of this real thick hay, and I felt something pop in the same right arm, only lower. I finished the round, shot 86, and had to withdraw the next morning. I had a pool of blood in my right arm. So, a few of my mates and I pulled out a map and did a pub crawl, drinking beers all day. Then I came back to Houston to fix the rotator cuff and the British Open problem, which was a torn biceps.

And where exactly did that happen?
On the sixth hole, just a few minutes before Monty announced his retirement. Anyway, I was basically gone for the rest of 2003 after that.

Did you ever get the name and number of that guy on the ski slope?
Nope. There are a lot of guys in orange suits. I suppose I could be more careful, but that's not me. We're planning to go skiing again. I promised my wife I'd lay off the Crown [Royal]. But that time in December of '02, it was my 40th birthday. Had to celebrate.

Who do you have the most fun with on tour?
A lot of my guys are gone. Billy Ray Brown, Gary McCord, Mark Lye — good mates — they've all become broadcasters. McCord, I miss. He's completely psycho. When I was just starting, we had an appearance once in L.A. I hit balls for an hour, McCord did magic tricks, and we each got $500. We thought we were stealing. That's why they call McCord "Magic." He can pull a rubber duck out of his you-know-what. You ever seen him do his magic? Unbelievable. But he's definitely not all there. He used to live in a railway car. Can you imagine that? Go play golf, then go back home to a railway car. That was his house. Nuts.

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