x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wood is back among the tees

Chris Wood has decided to follow in the footsteps of his English compatriot Justin Rose and join the professional ranks.

Wood plays a shot during the British Open last week. After finishing fifth at Birkdale, he has decided to turn professional.
Wood plays a shot during the British Open last week. After finishing fifth at Birkdale, he has decided to turn professional.

Chris Wood, the 6ft 5in amateur who came within three shots of leading the British Open golf championship on a thrilling final afternoon at Royal Birkdale earlier this month, has decided to follow in the footsteps of his English compatriot Justin Rose and join the professional ranks.

Wood, 20, finished fifth behind the champion Padraig Harrington a decade after Rose had produced an equally stunning performance to take fourth place behind the previous Birkdale winner Mark O'Meara. He declared after collecting the Silver Medal as the highest-placed amateur that he would delay a decision on his professional career for at least a year, but this week changed his mind under the temptation of a lucrative offer from the International Sports Management (ISM) group.

The same agency managed to recruit the promising Northern Ireland player Rory McIlroy, who took the prize for leading amateur at Carnoustie a year ago and has since established himself on the European Tour. The excited Wood joins players like Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and David Howell under the ISM umbrella. He disclosed that talks with Clarke, after they had played together last weekend, were instrumental in reaching his decision.

"I've spoken to professionals and they said that I'll be a better player after a year on the tour," said Wood, who will play in the Quinn Insurance British Masters at The Belfry on Sept 25-28, an event which his backing company promotes. "If I was going to play amateur golf for another year, I'm not sure that I would be in a better position than I am now." He needs to earn a total of £150,000 (Dh1million) to avoid having to play in the European Tour's qualifying school in November, but if he reproduces anything approaching the form he showed at Birkdale he will expect to achieve that target comfortably.

Inspired by his final round pairing with England's Ian Poulter, who finished runner-up to Harrington, Wood shot a two-over-par 72 under considerable pressure to huge acclaim from the large public galleries. Wood was delighted after walking down the 18th alongside Poulter, who at the time was in serious contention to lift the Claret Jug. "It was the best week of my life," he reflected. "The support I've had from my family, friends and coach has been fantastic.

"My trainer drove up from Devon on the morning of my final round to watch me. Everyone at my golf club has just been overwhelming and I expect I won over a few more in the crowd." Wood will leave the amateur ranks with mixed feelings, believing he benefited greatly from representing England. "The opportunities that come with being in the England team are just unbelievable," he said. "I was in Australia for three weeks in April, I've been to Argentina, Mexico and Russia.

"You get experience playing like a professional as an amateur, and then there is the coaching we receive - England have got some great coaches. "The standard in amateur golf is so high that a lot of the guys who have turned pro this year or last year are doing so well. "They've come straight out of the England team. I think it just shows how strong it is." The lanky Wood had considered a career in professional football as a schoolboy and was recruited into his the academy of his local club Bristol City at the age of 14, but a loose bone in a knee put paid to those aspirations.

"I got out of bed one day and collapsed down on the floor and couldn't play for ages," he said. "I lost interest in football and obviously had a lot more time to practise my golf. "Every year I've improved so far and obviously I am hoping to continue that improvement." Andrew Chandler, managing director of ISM believed Wood's capture was a major coup for his organisation "We are thrilled and delighted that Chris has chosen to join us when he had several other options," he said.

"He is an extremely talented and likeable young man and proved at The Open that he can perform at the highest level." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae