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HOLDING OUT FOR A NEW WELSH GOLF HERO; TALKING STRAIGHT.

Byline: DELME PARFITT

BACK in 1991, I went through a phase of spending whatever money I could scrape together as a naive sixth former on Sergio Tacchini polo shirts, simply because it was the brand my hero at the time, Ian Woosnam, used to wear.

There were other ways I could copy Woosie of course, the most appealing being to go on a drinking bender every now and again and play plenty of brilliant golf at my local club, Wenvoe Castle.

Suffice to say, I found the first of those activities easier to achieve than the second, but the reason for my devotion to Woosnam was his victory in the US Masters that year. Utterly inspiring. It was a period of amazing Sunday nights in front of the TV for British golf fans.

Sandy Lyle's bunker shot in 1988, Nick Faldo's back-to-back wins of 1989 and 1990, then Woosnam...it was truly intoxicating stuff.

The allure of Amen Corner, watching tee shots at the par three 16th, gazing at the greenest grass and the bluest sky known to man and hearing cheers go up in the distance and wondering who's just birdied will still be strong tonight as I don my jim-jams and rest my slippered feet on the pouffe with the remote control in one hand and a can of Stella in the other.

But one thing is annoying me as the years go by - the lack of competitive Welsh representation on Augusta's hallowed turf.

Woosnam still turns up because, as a past champion, he gets an invite, but he's long since ceased to be a threat to the green jacket, even more so now that the course has been lengthened.

But we've not had another Welshman at the tournament since 2007, when Bradley Dredge went into the final day close to the top 10 and then finished tied for 44th place.

Again this year, Woosnam flies the flag alone and it makes you wonder why the Welsh golfing conveyor belt has seemingly ground to a halt.

It is all the more galling when you consider that Northern Ireland has names like Rory McIlroy, Graeme Mc-Dowell and Darren Clarke who are all major winners of the last couple of years.

I always thought Dredge would progress to challenge at an event like the Masters, but he's totally faded away. Last I heard, he was living in Spain for half of the year and his game seems to have gone south with him.

But it's been clear for a number of years that Dredge isn't ever going to vie for the game's top honours, which is why the failure of Bridgend's Rhys Davies to kick on from an encouraging 2010 has been particularly frustrating.

In the year the Celtic Manor hosted the Ryder Cup, Davies was, at one stage, an outside contender to make Colin Montgomerie's European team. He won in Morocco, he was second to Luke Donald at the Madrid Masters and also runner-up to McDowell in the Wales Open of that year, posting an incredible final round of 62 over the Twenty10 layout.

Monty became a confessed admirer and while Davies' form fizzled out in the second-half of that year, the Scot asked him to embed himself in the European camp for the duration of the battle against the Americans in October so, as an observer, he could get a feel for what it was all about ahead of what would hopefully be a playing appearance in Chicago later this year. That's not going to happen now though, unless Davies embarks on a barrage of big tournament wins.

He's currently down to 222nd in the world rankings, having been inside the top 50 two years ago, and in the Race for Dubai, the European money list, he's at 97th. It was always thought Davies had the temperament and the putting game to go all the way, but now it appears someone, somewhere, needs to help him get back on track because Welsh golf needs him in its present fallow state.

However, salvation may not be as far away as we fear.

Step forward Rhys Pugh, the Pontypridd teenager who did not lose a match on his Walker Cup debut last year in helping Great Britain and Ireland to an upset against the USA at Royal Aberdeen.

He's still an amateur and in the middle of a golfing scholarship at East Tennessee State University, but I'm hearing on the grapevine that this kid isn't just promising, he's a potential multiple Major winner.

Pugh has won most of what there is to win in the unpaid ranks, including the prestigious McEvoy Trophy which has the names Lee Westwood and Justin Rose engraved on it, and it shouldn't be too long before he starts to make an impression among the big boys.

Lord knows Welsh golf needs him to, because that night back in 1991 seems an awfully long time ago now.

CAPTION(S):

Young talent Rhys Pugh is hopefully the one to bring golfing glory back to Wales Ian Woosnam, wearing his trademark Sergio Tacchini polo shirt, punches the air in triumph as he watches his winning putt on the 18th green during the US Masters at Augusta in 1991
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 8, 2012
Words:870
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