HONOLULU – This week is about closure for Robert Allenby. And about an opening, too – opening a new chapter of a career that last year careened horribly into a dark place that still baffles and bedevils him.
Allenby, a four-time PGA Tour winner, could have opted for the easy route and eschewed a return to the Sony Open in Hawaii. But he would have accomplished nothing.
“The worst thing you can do in life is run away from stuff,” he said Tuesday at Waialae CC, where the Sony Open begins Thursday. “If I hadn’t come here, I’d have been running away. And I probably would never have let it settle in my own mind and allow me to move on.”
Allenby missed the cut here last year, but that was only the start of a quixotic experience that left him with cuts and abrasions on his angular face and, more painfully, a loss of self-assuredness that a golfer needs to prosper.
The Australian native was obviously the victim of a robbery, but the rest of the events of last January 16-17 are unknown, even to him. Hours after going to dinner at the Amuse Wine Bar, Allenby awoke in the early morning bloodied and disoriented. His wallet and mobile phone were missing. Police investigated a possible kidnapping. A homeless woman came forward to say she helped the golfer get away from two men with whom Allenby was arguing.
A month later a Hawaii man was arrested and eventually sentenced to five years in prison for using Allenby’s credit cards. How it all unfolded is but fog and hearsay to Allenby, who suspects that someone slipped something in his drink in the wine bar, which would explain his loss of memory. Compounding Allenby’s embarrassment was a Golf Channel report that placed him in a strip bar that night. Honolulu police invalidated the report that he was ever there.
With a decent record at Waialae CC – three top-10 finishes, including second place in 2010 – Allenby had plenty of reasons to return, but only one reason to stay away.
“My point of view is that I’m a professional golfer and this is a tournament that I love to come to,” Allenby, 44, explained to a small media group after he played an 18-hole practice round. “I’ve been coming here for near 17 years and staying at the same hotel and enjoying the experience. I enjoy starting the year here, and I’m not going to let one bad occasion ruin such a beautiful place.
“There’s been a lot of thoughts about it over the last year. A lot of good things, a lot negative things about this. There has been more negative than anything. That really was the whole piece to the puzzle of coming here is to dilute all the negative stuff. Hawaii is such a beautiful place. I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t going to come back here because of what happened. I enjoy being here. The weather is perfect. The golf course is always perfect. People here are always so awesome and so friendly. Sony is a great sponsor. Why not support a great tournament?
“Last year was last year. The whole thing about coming here is putting last year behind me. It’s about coming here and hopefully playing well. And if I don’t play well I think I still achieve a lot by coming here.”
Allenby remains a tour member via use of a one-time exemption for career earnings. He admits that last year was difficult, and not just because he missed 11 cuts and withdrew from three other events in the 19 starts after leaving Hawaii. He missed the FedEx Cup Playoffs for just the second time in his career. He missed himself more.
“Physically I’m fit as a fiddle. My swing feels good. But a lot of my problems have been mental,” said Allenby, who has slipped to 600th in the world. “When you have a fear of people watching you play golf, just [wondering] ‘what are they saying about you now?’ Makes it very hard. Makes it hard to come out and play. But what else am I going to do? It’s my job. When I do it, I do it really well.
“I’ve sought a lot of help this year [from a psychologist] to overcome those negative thoughts that crop into my mind. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to get rid of them. It’s taken a while and it’s an ongoing thing. It won’t be gone anytime soon.”
Most painful, he said, is not that his life has changed but, “maybe my reputation has changed. It’s been tarnished – through false reporting. As I said and I’ll still say it today: I told you what I was told, and I told you what I knew. Yeah, I still have got a bit of a bee in a bonnet with Golf Channel. We did ask … me and my manager asked for an apology. But it’s been a year and they still haven’t done that. I hope they don’t expect me to do any interviews.”
Had it not been for his family – his children and his wife, Kim -- Allenby said he’s not sure how he could have coped last year. “My family has been great,” he said. “Kim and I got married the weekend before the Fry’s.com Open. She’s so positive. She said, ‘Just go there and do your best.’ Every day she tells me to be positive and make good decisions. That’s how you’re able to heal.”