If I were forced to put a date on it, I would say it was the end of the 1990s when I first met David Armitage.
A fresh-faced, slightly spotty teenager turned up at Carden Park’s driving range keen to do all the odd jobs going, just for a chance to be allowed to hit golf balls. He couldn’t afford to pay for them so a barter system was firmly in operation. Fast forward to the present day and the very same David Armitage has just become one of the youngest professionals to achieve PGA of America Master Professional status. It’s been a remarkable journey.
His father, a scratch golfer, had died when David was 11 years old but it wasn’t until he discovered his Dad’s set of clubs some three years later that the youngster decided to give the game a go and that was what led him to Carden, where I was based at the time. The other young pros working at the range cut him no slack at first, giving David all the worst, most menial jobs – basically all the ones they didn’t want to do themselves. This included hand-picking thousands of golf balls off the range first thing in the morning, digging them out of the frozen ground in winter and wading through the soggy morass that we had in the spring before a few blissful summer weeks meant the ground was firm enough to drive the ball-collecting buggy. He was the habitual errand boy sent out to get the bacon sandwiches and coffees for the staff but the brownie points translated into free time for hitting (free) golf balls and working on his game. Over time David’s resilience and work ethic earned the admiration of the other lads but it was his never-say-die attitude that earned him the nickname of “Feisty”.
Garry Houston, the best player attached to Carden Park at the time, took Feisty along to caddy for him in a number of pro-am and Challenge Tour events. This was an opportunity for Feisty to experience a different side of golf and when Garry achieved his full European Tour card, the young Feisty knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life involved in the game. His old love of rugby had been well and truly supplanted. Golf reigned supreme in his life.
At around this time Feisty moved to the home of golf and started working at the St Andrews Links Golf Academy. We were only in sporadic touch over the next dozen years or so but I did keep a wee eye on his progress. How could you not be impressed by the roster of golf clubs where he worked? Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin; Isleworth Country Club in Florida; The Renaissance Club in Gullane, Scotland; and currently Trump National Doral in Florida? Of course, being American-born has proved hugely beneficial in his easy transatlantic movement from one position to the other in his ceaseless quest for knowledge and self-improvement.
And then in 2015 at The Open at St Andrews we met again, with us both involved in the broadcasting side of the sport. Feisty does a show on Sirius/XM and is often part of that talented broadcast crew with whom I work on occasions. So, suddenly, we have become work colleagues again and I have seen yet another string to his bow.
I find it hard to think of any other individual who has progressed so much and come so far in 15 years or so. There are 28,ooo men and women who are members of the PGA of America and as of last Monday only 358 had attained Master Professional status.
Feisty cites Jim Farmer and Jim McLean as being massively influential mentors in his development. Well, I’m sure the young boy who turned up at Carden Park all those years ago will do his own fair share of mentoring. It’s been a giant leap for the lad who couldn’t afford a range ball to one whose hourly lesson rate is now in the region of $235. Golf can truly take you anywhere.
Rock on Feisty!