By WILL HIGHTOWER
It’s been a long, strange path for Gary Christian. It began in England, and made stops at several houses, colleges, country clubs, tournaments, and – oddly – at a Clinique Cosmetics seminar.
And the journey has come to this: at the age of 40, Christian will play his first tournament on the PGA Tour in 2012 after his win at the Mylan Classic in September.
“It was a long journey,” the Chelsea resident said. “Now, it is a dream come true.”
A risk with a boyhood game
Most people had kids’ TV shows and plastic toys surrounding them in early childhood. Christian had golf.
“I was brought up around the game,” Christian said. “My brother is named after Lee Trevino, and I am named after Gary Player.”
Christian’s childhood home had a golf course behind it, and the Christian boys could be seen practicing their short game in their yard, chipping and putting for hours on end.
“It’s amazing to think how small I was when I started learning about the game,” the golfer said. “I was very small. I learned the basics by age 7. We all played, and mom always enjoyed watching and being outdoors, so I was very fortunate to be brought up with that kind of family.”
However, even with golf seemingly engulfing him during his childhood, Christian was not always fully focused on the game. Growing up in Carshalton, England, he played several sports.
“When I started school, I started playing cricket and rugby,” Christian said. “I was a pretty good athlete, but I always seemed to be on bad teams. We never won anything.”
They say that everything happens for a reason. The bad teams on which Christian played, which seemed simply boring and not fun at the time, appear to have had an important effect.
“I decided to give golf another go. It appealed to me as an individual sport. If you played well, you got all the glory, and if you played badly, you had no one to blame but yourself.”
Individual glory, competition and a desire to succeed. The characteristics that pushed Christian toward the game of golf seem to go hand-in-hand with the characteristics of a certain place across the pond, with lush courses, great weather and college scholarships awaiting.
England does not provide a conducive atmosphere to young golfers. To be an amateur golfer, you either have to have rich parents that can fund the career, or you have to work a night job, play during the day and find spare time to sleep. Not to mention the blustery weather, with winds and rain that can take your ball and force it into the rough, even on a well-hit drive.
This situation was where Christian found himself as a young adult. He couldn’t see himself living that life of little sleep and a lot of work. The weather wasn’t helping.
To Christian, America looked like the land of opportunity for his golf career. He could play in college and hopefully play well enough to turn professional. The weather conditions were much better in comparison to England, and the golfer would actually have time to sleep.
Christian’s move to America to play golf on scholarship at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville was still a difficult decision.
“I took a pretty big risk leaving my family and friends and going to another country,” Christian said. “It was a long journey. I had a commitment to the game.”
Christian’s willingness to take that risk paid off: “I think because of that risk I took it [golf] means more to me than most people.”
From Wallace to Chelsea to the PGA
It was a normal afternoon at the Inverness Country Club. Christian, in the middle of his day as the membership director for the club, remembers it vividly.
“That’s the day I met my wife,” Christian said. “She was there doing a Clinique Cosmetics seminar while I was working, and we met and started chatting and began dating.”
Just to get to that point, though, Christian had taken a whirlwind ride through his new country. After a short stint at Wallace State, he played well enough to go on scholarship to Auburn.
“I am very grateful for college,” Christian said. “After I left Auburn, I lived in Irondale with a family I actually met while I was tailgating before an Auburn football game.”
Eventually, Christian moved to Chelsea with his family.
“Chelsea is a great place to live,” Christian said. “I’ve always loved the 280 corridor; it has everything you could ask for. I can play golf, go out with friends to eat…it’s a very nice place to live.”
Christian is now a member at Vestavia Country Club. His family – both sons named after golfers, of course – attends Morning Star United Methodist in Chelsea, an aspect of life Christian says has helped his golf game: “My spirituality has helped me center myself in life and in golf.”
Meanwhile, his golf game was stalling. Most golfers either move up quickly to the next level, or go back down below. Instead, Christian stayed an agonizing ten years on the Nationwide Tour, not playing well enough to finish in the top 25 that moved up yet playing well enough to stay on it.
Finally, in September of this year, he took the last step of his journey toward the big leagues. Christian won the Mylan Classic on Sept. 4 by one stroke, ensuring his finish in the top 25 on the money list and his spot on the long-awaited PGA Tour starting in 2012.
The 40 year old says it was worth the journey, and that now he intends on staking his place on the PGA Tour.
“I have every intention of playing on the PGA Tour for the rest of my career,” Christian said. “I am very consistent in my ball striking, meaning I hit a lot of greens and fairways. I think that will translate well at the next level. I am quietly confident about next year on the Tour.”
“My goal is to finish in the top 125 next year to guarantee that next year on the PGA Tour. And hey, maybe I’ll have one of those freaky years and end up playing in the Ryder Cup, who knows?”
Gary Christian is a busy man as he finishes up the 2011 Nationwide Tour. But his dreams are about to be realized, and his long journey will have taken another step to success.