There are not many top golfers who can blame a back problem on the time they spent as a roofer and laborer in their late 20s.
But Simon Khan, defending champion at the European Tour’s prestigious BMW PGA Championship, is one of them and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that it doesn’t impede him in this of all weeks.
FAREWELL TO SEVE BALLESTEROS
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2011 BMW PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Aside from only the British Open, the BMW PGA Championship is the biggest, most prestigious event in European golf.
Just over a decade ago, Khan had made seven attempts to get on the European Tour without success, and took up winter employment in the building trade to boost his income.
What a contrast to last May when, ranked 471st in the world and invited to play only days before, he came from seven shots back with a closing 66 and beat Luke Donald by one. It earned him over $1 million, a five-year European Tour exemption, a place in the next three British Opens and, quite simply, changed his life.
And all this on his wife's birthday, just to add to the dream scenario.
Now 38-year-old Khan is back at the famous West Course at Wentworth, desperately hoping it can inspire him again. He has missed the cut in his last four starts and in Majorca two weeks ago pulled out after one round because of his back.
"I'd got a slight tear and didn't want to make it worse considering what was coming up," he said. "I should be fine, but I've got to be careful. Despite my form recently, I so love playing Wentworth and I've been thinking about it since the start of the year pretty much. I always play better when there's a massive reason to do well and as the defending champion I have. I never have a problem getting up for the (BMW) PGA or the Open."
Seeing TV coverage of Seve Ballesteros’ win at St. Andrews in 1984 that inspired Khan to take up golf -- he was 12 at the time -- and he can still remember watching in awe at the World Match Play Championship later that year.
"He had such an aura, it was unbelievable. I saw him beat Ben Crenshaw (Masters champion at the time) 9&8 and at the eighth he putted it out of the bunker,” Khan said. "He couldn't see a shot with a sand iron, so he putted it. I thought at first 'you can't do that', but he was the one to watch and you can't explain to some of the younger players now how good he was."
Khan turned professional seven years later, but it took him a decade to earn a European Tour card and he was back at Q-School a year later. Six top-10 finishes in 2003 was proof he had the game to survive, though. The following year he won the Wales Open and in 1996 he was runner-up to David Howell in the PGA Championship.
That earned him more than $600,000, but at the end of 2009 he was forced to make his 10th trip to Q-School and his future was uncertain.
Digging deep, however, he won it and the rest, as they say, is history.
That May's victory gave him the chance to go on a spending bonanza -- but it was just not his style.
"I always said if I won a big one I would get an Aston Martin or a Lamborghini, but that's not my values," he said. "Family is the thing that's most important to me. We did get a new BMW (the tournament sponsors will be pleased about that), but I'll never be flippant about money."
Nor did he rest on his laurels with the European Tour's flagship title under his belt. The following day he was at Walton Heath trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. He lost in a playoff, but then was given a place at Pebble Beach as a reserve.
"Playing there and at the PGA Championship was special, but nothing beats the feeling of winning -- and winning at Wentworth was just incredible,” he said. "Not that it felt like that at the time. In my mind I'd won it so many times that when I picked up the trophy for real it didn't feel abnormal."