We recently had a brief chronicle about the unusual circumstances that resulted in John Daly getting into and winning the 1991 PGA Championship.
The year prior, an Australian from Brisbane won the tournament and in so doing, changed his prospects as a professional golfer for the better. For one thing, winning a Major tournament in the PGA earns a lifetime invitation to play in the Masters, the annual tournament in Augusta, Georgia that is the dream and aspiration of all golfers whose abilities permit them to indulge in such a scenario.
The professional golfer of whom we are speaking is Wayne Grady, who enjoyed a very respectable career on golf courses in Australia and all over the world.
Wayne Desmond Grady was born 26 July 1957 in Brisbane. His career path as a golfer was a little bit unusual in that he turned professional in 1973 when he was just 16. Professional, that is, in the sense that he announced that he would play competitive golf for prize money. Further, he was able to regain his amateur status. Five years later, at the age of 21, he again turned professional, permanently this time.
When he won his first professional tournament six months after announcing his return as a professional, he was almost flat broke, with less than $10 in his pocket. He spent two years playing on the Queensland Troppo Tour. His finances at the time were so meager that in order to afford his share of a small bus that he and other players used to get betwixt events, he borrowed $140.
He embarked on a six week road trip with $60 to his name, sharing his winnings with his tour mates and receiving help from them occasionally. Along with fellow professional Ian Baker-Finch, the group led a nomadic existence, riding their communal bus and sharing a well-stocked plastic bin of Fourex.
After that initial win in the 1978 Westlakes Classic, he did not win again until the 1984 German Open. In the interim, he had to make do with 17 second place finishes. That German Open victory, however, secured his European Tour playing privileges for three years. That safety net was sufficient to enable him to develop the confidence to try his fortune in America.
He survived the crucible of fierce competition that was the U.S. Players School, and earned his way onto the main PGA Tour commencing in 1984. He finished his next season at a quite respectable 41st ranking on the money list, but his good fortune from that first season was short-lived. He lost his card to play in the U.S. in 1986, but was able to persevere and regain it the following year.
He had managed, in 1984, to get nine starts on the PGA Tour. Even though he survived to make three cuts, he earned only about $2,500 that year, which when considered in the light of the prize money available nowadays, is practically inconceivable.
1985 saw his fortunes much improved. He played in 30 events. A second place and four top-ten finishes, along with making 26 of 30 cuts, enabled him to take home nearly $170,000.
The following season marked a bit of a decline. Even though he teed off 34 times, he earned only $49,000 not enough to maintain his exempt status. Showing his mettle, he battled back onto the tour, and even though in 1987 he got only 16 opportunities, he nearly doubled his income from the 1986 season, to $73,000.
Playing in the 1988 Australian PGA Championship, he got the upper hand in a four hole playoff against Greg Norman for the win. He had 22 starts on the PGA, and cracked the $100,000 milestone.
1989 would provide his first appearance in the winners’ circle. He won the tournament that is now known as The Barclays, which was called the Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic at the time. Played in Westchester Country Club in the Rye suburb of New York City, he shot a seven under 277 to get into a playoff, which he won to earn $180,000. Another Australian, Adam Scott, would win the same tournament in 2013, earning almost 10 times what the win was worth to Grady, $1.44 million. Other Australians to win were David Graham in 1976 and Bruce Crampton in 1970, the fourth year the tournament was held.
Grady very nearly achieved greatness and immortality that same season when he and Greg Norman got into a three-way playoff with Mark Calcavecchia, the eventual winner. Grady would earn in excess of $400,000 for his 26 starts that year, his second-best tally on the PGA.
The following year, Wayne Grady won his second and final PGA Tour victory, one of the coveted Majors, The PGA Championship. The tournament was played in Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama that year. His six under 282 total gave him a comfortable lead, mainly on the strength of his second round 67, and he needed only a 71 on the final day to provide a three stroke margin over Fred Couples. The 1979 winner, David Graham was in the field, but his 16 over par 304 total left him in 66th position. Some indication of the level of competition in the event would be gained from the knowledge that five-time winner Jack Nicklaus and two-time winner Lee Trevino did not make the cut to play the final two rounds, although to be fair, both men were in the twilight of their careers.
For the season, Grady made 22 starts, made the cut 19 times, and earned $527,000, which was his top career finish for prize money.
Wayne Grady would play another 12 seasons, but had nothing better than five top-10s to show for it. He last appeared on the main tour for one event in 2005. His career earnings are given as $2,077,434. He would go on to play 44 events on the Champions Tour, beginning in his first year of eligibility, 2007. His best year was 2008, when he played 20 times and earned $270,000, but he only played three times from 2010 to 2012.
He won twice in Australia, the Handa Senior Australian Open in 2007 and 2008. His final win came in 2008 at the Handa Akira Cup.
Wayne Grady had to pay considerable dues to achieve what he eventually did in the world of professional golf, proof perhaps that the game is accessible to anyone with the skill and determination, and not just the privileged elite who grew up in country club environments.