TWENTY three months ago, almost to the day, Brett Rumford was lying in a South African hospital having just had a life-saving operation to remove 30cm of his badly blocked small intestine. Today, he’s a winner on the European Tour for the sixth time.
Since returning to the game late in 2015, he has struggled. With the exception of winning the West Australian PGA in October that year, his best European Tour result has been an outright seventh placing at the now defunct Perth International last February. It would be a highlight in a season littered with 13 missed cuts, which ultimately led to him losing his full European Tour card.
The West Australian needed to make a change and he enlisted Sydney-based coach Gary Barter. His climb back to full status began at the Australian PGA Championship in December when he finished fifth and, despite two missed cuts in his previous two events, Rumford was swinging well when he arrived in Perth.
Now Rumford is heading back to the European Tour full time after winning the inaugural World Super 6 title at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in his native Perth.
Not surprisingly, with all that has happened in the past two years, there were a few tears from ‘Rummy’ as he was chauffeured in a golf cart back to the clubhouse after defeating Thai teenage sensation Phachara Khongwatmai 2 and 1 in the final of the inaugural hybrid tournament.
“Amazing,” Rumford smiled with the new World Super 6 trophy sitting in front him. “It's just great to be back with what I feel is my second family.
“Yeah, it's been a pretty tough road, last year was pretty tough. Year before that was even tougher with my surgery. So only seeing my daughters, my twin girls for four weeks out of six months, sort of completely fell out of love with the game and sort of my direction in life and everything else that goes with it.
“Once I lost my tour card, by 20,000 Euros, which was probably circumstantial to my situation, yeah, just not quite swinging as well.
“I think it just put things in perspective and sort of I really missed just being out there having a Tour card and just being out there with my other family. So it's really nice to get that back and feel as though I've got some worth as a golfer once again. Because once it's all taken away, it can happen so quickly, it's not a nice place to be.”
Rumford said, given his health and form setbacks, this win has pride of place as the finest of his career.
“This is pretty amazing, this one,” said Rumford, who last won on the European Tour in 2013. “After my surgery, probably more so than any other victory, it's probably the biggest in terms of where I've come from in such a short period of time over the time from my surgery.
RIGHT: Rumford makes his birdie putt on the 4th hole to go 1 up in the final. PHOTO: Paul Kane/Getty Images.
“So I think that is … I've worked bloody hard just to get back to here and even still showing signs after being in South Africa, I know that if I still work really, really hard and trash my body like I know I do, things just seem to break down a little bit easier. But the surgeon said it would be three years before you're fully through it, so I'm just continuing to just work on it and just to improve and everything's where it should be and in its right time.
“So, yeah, I think this win is, being in the home state, family and friends, everyone wants to win in front of home crowds and it's so hard to do as well and it's quite unique. I've got a couple of positives there today to reflect upon I think.”
Rumford, 39, was top of the leaderboard for all three strokeplay rounds and had a bye into round two of Sunday's six-hole knockout matchplay format.
The West Australian defeated Japan’s Hideto Tanihara (2&1), South Australian pair Wade Ormsby (second shootout hole) and Adam Bland (1 up) to reach the final against the 17-year-old Khongwatmai.
Khongwatmai finished nine shots behind Rumford after the three strokeplay rounds and was in the highest-scoring group of the 24 players to qualify for the matchplay rounds.
He had to play one round more than Rumford and saw off NSW’s Sam Brazel, Victorian Lucas Herbert and Canberra’s Matthew Millar to reach the semi-finals, where he easily overcame West Australian Jason Scrivener 3 & 1. Bland later defeated Scrivener in the play-off for third place, while South African Louis Oosthuizen defeated Steven Jeffress in the playoff for fifth place.
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Rumford won the opening hole of the final when he stiffed his approach shot in close to the flag and his teenage opponent conceded the putt after missing his par-saving putt. Rumford handed Khongwatmai the next hole when his drive on the long-par-4 finished in the trees. He then tried to fashion an escape using his driver from the rough but the ball sailed well left of the green. He couldn’t save his par and conceded the hole to Khongwatmai.
A pair of pars at the par-3 Super 3rd hole kept the match all-square but Rumford was starting to struggle with the driver as he carved his drive right on the uphill par-5 Super 4th hole. Luckily, the ball clipped a tree and he was left with a shot from the right edge of the fairway. He sent his next shot left of the green into a treacherous spot under the trees but such is the quality of Rumford’ short game, he turned a bogey for most into a birdie. He played a deft low, pitch onto the green and rolled the putt in from 12 feet for birdie and a 1 up lead.
At the next, Khongwatmai found the bunker left of the green on the short downhill par-3, which left the victory door ajar for Rumford. He pitched confidently and true with his ball spinning to a stop just two feet from the flag. Bizarrely, Khongwatmai tried to putt out of the bunker but the cannoned into the face of the trap and rolled back to the bottom. He blasted out and extended his hand in conceding victory to Rumford.
One of the first people onto the green to congratulate Rumford was PGA of Australia Tournament Director Andrew Langford-Jones. He was the man behind the original Surf Coast Knockout tournament, which provided inspiration and a starting point for the establishment of the World Super 6 event.
For Rumford's win he collected a $277,770 winner’s cheque and is exempt on the European Tour until the end of the 2018 season. He also moves straight to the top of the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit.