PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The 42-year-old father of three did what his instincts dictated – wait patiently.
Stuart Appleby had just birdied his second hole of the day – the 11th at Monterey Peninsula Country Club – when the weather horn sent players, caddies and fans scrambling for cover.
After weeks of drought, and a solid few years of fair weather for the PGA Tour’s northern California stop, Crosby weather returned for the opening round of this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
For nearly three hours Appleby waited out the tempest without a hint of anxiety or anxiousness.
That’s what more than two decades of Tour experience and a burgeoning family does to a man.
“It was fine, really. It was just a solid day all the way around,” Appleby said of his opening 65 that left him two strokes out of the lead held by rookie Andrew Loupe.
In its simplest terms, Appleby’s calm in the middle of Thursday’s storm comes honestly.
Once a perennial contender, the Australian is three years removed from his last Tour victory and hasn’t advanced to the Tour Championship, the ultimate litmus test for top players, since 2008.
Nagging injuries led to swing flaws that can at least partially explain Appleby’s malaise, but when he was asked to assess the last few years the easiest answer is life.
For all the right reasons, Appleby has been distracted by his growing family in recent years with three children under 8 years old.
“They definitely play a role. Your emotional energy changes a little bit towards your family. Your attention, your focus, your time. Sometimes that’s a struggle,” he said. “You have more family commitments, which I really purely love, as you get older. You focus all your time on your family.”
As his children have aged, however, Appleby’s focus and time have returned to golf. He refined his swing during this offseason and adjusted his putting stroke to more of a “downward hit,” which might explain his ability to navigate the normally bumpy coastal greens.
He rolled in a 20 footer for birdie on the 11th before the delay and followed that with a 15 footer at the 14th hole when play resumed. His bogey-free round was his lowest start on Tour since a 65 at the 2012 Canadian Open.
In fact, his 6 under card was his best ever at the Clambake, an event he once jettisoned from his schedule because of the habitually bad weather and five-hour-plus rounds.
But he returned to the Monterey Peninsula in 2010 and hasn’t missed the Pro-Am since, a nod to his growing maturity and an appreciation for the golf – if not the views.
“If it’s not raining everyday here it’s a good tournament,” Appleby said. “I normally avoided the amateur format a bit like the plague. But I’ve grown up a bit, matured a bit.”
If Appleby needs a blueprint to follow as he reinvents himself he should look no further than Steve Stricker, who didn’t find his way on Tour until he was well into his 40s and earned a spot on last year’s Presidents Cup team playing a limited schedule.
“Look at Steve, he’s won massively in his 40s. Really his whole career has been in his 40s,” he said. “He wants to spend more time with his family now. (But) I love playing out here, I want to compete, I want to play.”
After nine Tour victories and more than $22.5 million in career earnings, it would be easy for Appleby to go quietly through the next few years on his way to the Champions Tour.
But that doesn’t appear to be on the agenda.
After being understandably distracted by quality of life concerns the last few years, Appleby has been reinvigorated by the call of competition.
Following a long, wet day, Appleby was asked what motivates the middle aged, and for a moment he appeared to channel his 20-year-old self.
“The chase, the hunt, the elusive almost at your fingertips next level of golf that’s just at arm’s reach,” Appleby said. “It feels like it is always there, that next rung on the ladder to pull yourself up. Golf gives you so many opportunities like no other sport.”
For Appleby, it turns out the ultimate career mulligan is a mind unclouded by life’s concerns and the clarity of thought to win again.