comscore Practical improvisation lands Appleby the lead
Ferd's Words

Practical improvisation lands Appleby the lead

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You don’t rise from a rural Australian dairy farm to a place on the PGA Tour’s career money list without learning a little something about the art of improvisation along the way.

Days spent taking swings amid the cows in the paddock in the Victorian sandbelt tend to teach lessons in adaptability. Not to mention careful footwork.

So when torrential rains pounded Honolulu this week, closing the golf course at Waialae Country Club as well as others around Oahu, some PGA Tour pros found themselves frustrated, not to mention out of luck for late, game-polishing practice rounds.

But not Stuart Appleby.

He found himself on a fire-escape landing at the Kahala Hotel & Resort on Thursday.

There, sand wedge in hand, he set about working on the form that helped him to the opening-round lead of the rain-delayed Sony Open in Hawaii yesterday.

Appleby shot a 6-under-par 64, including an eagle on the par-4 16th hole, for a one-stroke lead over nine pursuers. His second attempt on the 417-yard 16th made it into the cup from 163 yards.

Testament, no doubt, to the fine edge honed in, uh, practice. Such as it was, anyway.

"I didn’t do much (practicing) on Wednesday, (just) very briefly in the rain," Appleby said. "And, then, (Thursday), I actually went out late in the afternoon for about 20 minutes and just hit sand wedges — well, not hit, but swing — sand wedges on the balcony of the fire exit that overlooked the (ocean) view here. Just sat there with a glove on and hit — well, imagined hitting — balls and working on my technique for about 20 minutes and getting a feel for it."

That, Appleby acknowledged, "was really my whole practice right there. And (then), I walked about 20 feet back into my room."

At first Appleby had considered "going down to the beach" fronting the hotel.

"I was going to do something, but I thought ‘that balcony looks like I’ve got enough room here," he said. "Just with the sand wedge, though.’"

When he thought about it, the 40-year-old Appleby, in his 15th year on tour, said, "If you know what you’re thinking about, what you’re trying to do, you don’t need to hit balls. I’ve been here long enough. What am I going to learn that’s totally new like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got it?’ Nothing. It is not going to happen."

What happened yesterday — an eagle, four birdies and no bogeys — was Appleby’s best in 31 rounds over 11 years at Waialae. Its steadiness recalled his opening round in 2000, a 66, that helped propel Appleby to a runner-up finish to Paul Azinger.

Meanwhile, there’s no telling what fellow guests thought of the sight. But, Appleby noted, "I haven’t been busted … yet."

So, back to the fire escape?

"No, I reckon I’ll get a good session on the range and keep myself happy," Appleby said. "(But) that was amazing, just 20 minutes on the balcony."

No more remarkable, perhaps, than the journey that brought him here in the first place.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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