After 3 1/2 years of frustration and doubt, Robert Allenby accomplished the feat that answered the questions about his near-fatal 1996 car crash and its impact on his stalled golf career.
He won on the PGA Tour.
The former prodigy from Australia captured his first tour victory last month, parlaying a casual fling with a cross-handed putting grip and some home-stretch luck into the Houston Open title. Now 28, Allenby is hoping to shape a career on U.S. soil equal to the one he enjoyed on the European Tour - up until the awful accident. "The last few years I have had a lot of doubt that I would ever win again," Allenby said yesterday at TPC at Avenel, site of this week's Kemper Open. "That was the hardest part. I did hit my head quite hard [in the accident], and mentally, I thought, `Maybe it has changed something.' So it was a relief to win, and have that feeling that I have still got it in me."
Allenby won the Australian Open in 1994 and three European Tour tournaments in 1996, becoming one of the sport's young stars. But he then endured the crash on a foggy hairpin curve in Spain, and took with him with head and chest injuries. He also divorced his first wife during that time.
Allenby's journey back was slow and inconsistent, but his breakthrough couldn't have been more satisfying. The win came at the same tournament his countryman and closest friend, Stuart Appleby, one year earlier captured his first victory since the death of his wife, Renay, in a taxi accident after the 1998 British Open.
For Appleby's victory, Allenby and his wife, Sandy, delayed their flight out of Houston to follow the tournament's stretch run. Then last month, Appleby playfully ducked through the gallery while following the dramatic four-hole playoff between Allenby and Craig Stadler.
"If you saw the [television] clips from last year, that's my wife giving him a hug and a kiss [after his win]," Allenby said. "That was pretty emotional. And then what happened this year, it was really amazing."
Both golfers stress the importance of their camaraderie, especially because the tour has few other full-time Australians. After Allenby …