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Ian Woosnam awarded an OBE

Being Europe's 2006 Ryder Cup captain made Ian Woosnam lose sleep, lose his appetite and at one point even ask his players if they wanted him to resign. But when Europe achieved its record-tying nine-point win in September, the 48-year-old had no hesitation calling it "the pinnacle of my life."

Woosnam achieved another pinnacle on Saturday as he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth.

Also among those selected for the Queen's annual year-end honors was prominent English amateur golfer Gary Wolstenholme, who was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Wolstenholme, 46, has played in six Walker Cups, and is a former British Amateur champion.

"It's great. To have an MBE and to go up to an OBE is fantastic. I'm over the moon," Woosnam said. "The Ryder Cup was a fantastic event and is always going to be the pinnacle of my career, but to get an honor like this on top of it is brilliant.

"I've been to Buckingham Palace a couple of times and it's an incredible feeling when you walk through the gates," he added. "In fact, when I got my MBE I almost missed it. Traffic problems meant we were late and if it wasn't for some guy on the gate recognizing me and letting me in, I wouldn't have made it. I think this time we'll go down the night before!''

During the Ryder Cup closing ceremony at the K Club, Woosnam described what he had just witnessed as "the greatest week in history ever."

That might have been pushing it a bit, but it was easy to understand his unbridled joy and relief.

"I won a major tournament, I've been No. 1 in the world, and I've got to say this is the proudest moment of my life,'' stated the 1991 Masters champion. "I can't say enough about my team. They played absolutely fantastic. When you have 12 players like this and the backroom staff what I've got they made my job very easy.

"It's a dream come true for me. I've been worried about it for 18 months because it's an unbelievable responsibility," he added. "There were times when I didn't eat properly, didn't sleep properly and had a churning in my stomach."

Woosnam fancies the idea of doing it again when his native Wales stages the Ryder Cup for the first time in 2010, but just to be Ryder Cup captain once was an amazing accomplishment considering the start of his career.

Woosnam turned professional in 1976 and such were his early struggles that entering the 1982 European Tour season his total earnings amounted to less than $7,000. He had already been to the qualifying school three times, and he used to travel around in a battered old camper van eating baked beans straight from the can to save money.

In trying to qualify for the 1981 British Open, Woosnam almost reached breaking point.

"I think I shot 67 the first day and then on the 18th hole of my second round I hit it about 10 yards off the tee, over the fence out of bounds. I drove all the way home and I thought 'I'm never going to play golf again,' " he said. "After a couple of weeks of cooling down, my mum and dad said to me, 'just give it another try. You haven't given yourself the five years yet'.''

The breakthrough came with a playoff victory in the 1982 Swiss Open. He leaped from 104th on the Order of Merit to eighth, and a year later was making the first of eight Ryder Cup appearances. Within the ensuing years, 44 worldwide victories and earnings of more than $20 million made him one of Europe's Big Five with Seve Ballesteros, Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer.

Woosnam was the last of them to taste major glory. It came at the 1991 Masters and made it four British wins in a row after Lyle's success in 1988 and Faldo's the following two years. He reigned as world No. 1 for 50 weeks.

December 31, 2006


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