Llanymynech (pronounced, roughly, thlan-uh-MAHN-uck) Golf Club has 15 holes in Wales, two in England and one that straddles the border. The hilltop on which the course is located is the highest point for 10 miles around, and its vistas, when the rains let up, are of the mountains of Wales to the west and of the Vale of Shropshire to the east. At the foot of the hill is Offa's Dyke, which is part of an ancient fortification that was built to restrain the pesky Welsh. Beginning with the Romans, would-be conquerors of those original Britons used Llanymynech Hill as a lookout and also mined its limestone deposits for copper and other minerals. Today three of the club's holes border a gaping abandoned quarry more than 100 feet deep.
When Ian began to travel to junior tournaments away from home, Harold made a decision. "Between milking the cows and running up to Llanymynech and the kids not being interested in the farm, I changed my farming policy," he says. "I sold the cows out and went into cereals to give me more time to run around with Ian. I went with him everywhere. Used to do all his caddying to save on expenses. Caddies cost money."
Father and son traveled the Midlands and Scotland pulling a trailer behind the family car. "It was good fun," says Ian. "We'd tow that around to all sorts of different places."
At 16, Ian left home and school and went to work at Hill Valley, a golf course 25 miles from Oswestry. For two years he was a greenskeeper and sometime bartender in the clubhouse. "Them was the wild days, them was," he says. "Discos every night and drinking beer, but it was good fun. I was going out, but I was practicing a lot, working at my game pretty hard. But I wasn't giving myself a chance. I was messing around too much. It wasn't really till I was 18 that I got down to it."
For many years, as an amateur and later as a professional, Woosnam played golf in the long shadow of Lyle, the son of the professional at Hawkstone Park in Shropshire. "He was always in a league a bit better than me, playing for England when I was sort of just struggling around," says Woosnam. Lyle was as big, easygoing and promising as Woosnam was small, tempestuous and self-immolating. Even as a junior, Lyle never threw a club. Woosnam not only threw them ("all the time," he says) but beat, bent, snapped and kicked them as well. His mother, Joan, cringes at the memory. "When he used to play for Wales and was well in the lead and he'd made a bad shot, oh, it was terrible," she recalls. "I used to be ashamed to go around with him."
"Being a Welshman is a disadvantage for a sportsman," says Harold. "They are really excitable people. It's taken Ian 11 years to get where he is, and I could never understand why. He was that much better than the others, but they used to qualify and he couldn't. I think it was his nervousness and his Welsh breeding."
Harold would know. He is small, wiry and, according to his son, hotheaded and stubborn. "He wanted to be a professional boxer," says Ian. "In them days his parents said, 'You're not being a boxer; you're going to be a farmer and that's it.' End of question. That's what he had to be. I think that's why he was so keen to give me a chance to do something I wanted to do."
When Ian was 18 and wanted to turn professional, Harold canvassed the top golfers in the area. "The opinion was he was too small," says Harold. Perhaps remembering his own disappointment at not being allowed to box, Harold gave his permission. He organized a party of Hill Valley and Llanymynech members, who raised £500 to see Ian on his way. The money didn't last long. "I only qualified once in four tournaments, and I didn't win any money," says Woosnam. "After that I was on my own."
He kept going by winning a little money on the Midlands Circuit, a minor tour near Manchester and Birmingham. When that money ran out, he returned to Hill Valley to work behind the bar for a spell. He and a pal from the club, Tony Minshall, traveled to tournaments in a blue VW camper, living out of it at tournament sites.
In 1979, Woosnam acquired a sponsor, MTM Engineering of Oswestry, which was willing to put up £5,000 a year against 50% of Woosnam's earnings after expenses. For two years MTM saw no return on its investment. Then, just as Woosnam's career was about to take a turn for the better, MTM's business went sour. "They were desperate for money by that time," recalls Woosnam. "They were ringing me up in the middle of tournaments wanting some money." In the third year of the arrangement Woosnam won £100,000 and returned £30,000 of it to MTM. "They went bust and I was just starting, but they got back double what they gave me, anyway," he says. "If it weren't for them, maybe I wouldn't be where I am now. They gave me a chance to play."