Forever destined to stand out in a crowd, the new BMW PGA champion Chris Wood is in many ways your stereotypical “gentle giant.” Measuring in at six-feet, six and a quarter inches -- “don’t forget the quarter” -- this quietly-spoken native of Bristol in England’s West Country is no one’s patsy though. Cross him and there will be consequences, as a fellow pupil discovered back in their school days.
“I came back from a junior event to hear that a lad in my year had got a photo of me off the Internet,” says the 28-year old Wood. “On it he wrote all kinds of nasty things about my family, people he had never even met. Horrible things. Just disgusting. And he put it up in the school library.
“One of my friends took me in there and showed it to me. I’ll never forget it. Later that day we were all playing football on the tennis courts. The lad was in the other team. First chance I got I went in quite hard. He got up and retaliated. He actually threw a bottle at me and cut my face. So I thumped him and put seven stitches in his lip.
“To this day I don’t regret what I did. No one talks about my family like that, especially with no reason behind it.”
Such a tale hardly gels with Wood’s outward demeanor. One of the most popular figures on the European Tour, he has made a name for himself not only for his smooth swing but for his innate good humour. Few on the Old World circuit are more approachable.
He can play, too, as he showed in shooting 29, six-under par, to the turn in the final round at Wentworth. Which was no great surprise. Fourth last year in the European Tour’s “flagship event” - despite what tour chief executive Keith Pelley might say - Wood had also led the event after 54-holes back in 2010 before subsiding to a closing 77.
Indeed, this former Russian Amateur champion is definitely a “horses for courses” man, with a particular propensity for golf by the seaside. Fifth in the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale while still an amateur, Wood came back one year later at Turnberry and finished fourth.
“I love the variety that comes with links golf,” he says. “Think about it. You can walk onto the fringe of just about any green on a links, drop your ball anywhere and use any club in the bag to chip with. That’s the best part of golf for me. Links golf just gives me so many options. My imagination just goes off. It’s just so enjoyable. Far more than hitting lob wedge after lob wedge out of rough.
“I remember hitting 4-irons from 140-yards out at Birkdale during the 2008 Open. My Dad was caddying for me. The wind was strong but it was great fun. And now that I am on the tour I hardly ever do something like that. Which is a shame. It’s frustrating, particularly for someone like me who loves links golf.”
With victory at Wentworth -- his third on the European Tour -- comes many benefits, immediate and potential. Up to 25th in the world rankings, Wood would also be a member of the European Ryder Cup side at Hazeltine were the qualifying to end today. It is a prospect he would relish. Even now, eight years into his professional career, Wood speaks fondly of the teams he represented as an amateur.
“Playing county golf for Gloucestershire were some of the best days of my life,” he says. “Every year we played in ‘South-West Week,’ all the six counties would show up at St. Enodoc, or Saunton, or Trevose. It was seven days, 36-holes a day, foursomes in the morning and singles after lunch. The winning team went forward to the national finals. When there are ten lads in the same hotel and they all get on it is brilliant. I’m still friends with so many of the guys I met through county golf. There is just nothing like team play.”
One possible foursomes or four-ball partner for Wood come September is Masters champion Danny Willett. The pair were regular teammates for England as amateurs, a fact that will surely not have escaped the notice of European skipper Darren Clarke.
“At all the training camps I went to there was only me and one other who really wanted it and put the hours in,” says Wood. “We were always there. First in the gym at 6:30 in the morning. Nothing was an issue. And that was me and Willett. Looking back now, it was so obvious. If I had been on the outside looking in, I would have picked up on the fact that we were a little different. We wanted it more.
“I remember doing all the skills tests. We had challenges every day. They added up on an Order of Merit. I wanted to win it. But other guys didn’t seem bothered. I was trying my nuts off. And I’m sure Dan was the same. He pushed me and I hope I did the same for him.”
No doubt. Which leaves just one thing. Some advice for Danny Willett: push Chris Wood by all means, but not too hard. You might end up with a split lip.