By Michael Vlismas
Exactly two years before his 50th birthday, David Frost said he was looking forward to this new phase in his remarkable career.
‘I look at the Seniors Tour as a kind of reward for committing myself to the game for so many years and for all the hard work I’ve put in,’ Frost said.
Now, at the age of 56, he can certainly feel like he’s reaping the just rewards on the Seniors Tour.
He’s had six victories on the Champions Tour between 2010 and 2015, and a further two on the European Seniors Tour. He’s also lost three playoffs on the Champions Tour.
And he claimed a senior Major when he won the 2013 Regions Tradition.
Now he heads into July’s Senior Open Championship seeking his second Major in a season where he should drive into Carnoustie feeling fairly confident about his chances.
Frost has mixed two runners-up finishes into a handful of top-10s on the Champions Tour this season, and in May he finished tied seventh in the Senior PGA Championship.
It’s placed him in the top 10 on the Charles Schwab Cup rankings, while he ranks as high as third on the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit.
The silver lining Frost was looking for when he was 48 has certainly been good.
‘There are so many guys out here who supported the PGA Tour for so many years and it’s almost a way in which they’ve given back to us. I now really appreciate what the Tour has done for us to extend our careers. It’s also just great to still be out there earning a nice chunk of money every year. It’s wonderful to still have this opportunity,’ says Frost.
And he is revelling in keeping pace with the game and its changes, tinkering here and there just like he does on his wine farm as he seeks to always find that perfect blend.
‘I’ve always worked on my fitness so that’s one thing that keeps me injury-free. That and a combination of still practising and trying things out like new clubs and shafts. I played with Mike Reid recently and he used to be one of the shortest hitters on the regular Tour. Now he’s right up there in length, so today’s equipment has helped us to stay in touch with the game.
‘I still try different equipment all the time. I went to a new shaft in my irons about five weeks ago. The weight of the club becomes lighter as the shaft becomes lighter so it’s easier to swing and your clubhead speed increases, which means you can get the ball up in the air with your low irons. The game has allowed us to keep pace and I like to try the new equipment to keep my game at the level where it is right now.’
Golf’s original winemaker remains equally passionate about this side of his life. Frost Wines is a rapidly growing business that has come a long way since his father would allow them a sip of wine on a Sunday afternoon, to buying his own vineyard in 1994 and then leaving a few of his first bottles in players’ lockers at a tournament and getting phonecalls for orders.
‘I’m fortunate enough to live in America so I have the potential to make some really good wine at a reasonable price in South Africa, and the currency exchange rate helps me a lot.
‘I’ve been fortunate to team up with one of the big grocery chains in America – Trader Joe’s – and they do a direct import from me into about 400 of their stores. That’s been a great account for me. My daughter helps me run the wine business. If I can still play golf for another four or five years and slowly build that brand and recognition, hopefully we can get it going to a nice import product.’
A portion of Frost’s wine sales go to supporting the Raymond Ackerman Golf Academy at Clovelly Golf Club.
‘That’s what I want to plough back into the game. I help with their work of teaching the kids golf and life skills. I work closely with them whenever I’m in South Africa and I hope they can see where I came from and what I’ve achieved, and learn from that.’
The Champions Tour does indeed seem a place where even non-golfers can embrace the peace and acceptance that comes with age.
And Frost is in a good place at this time in his career and life, having certainly seen some incredible highs and lows throughout his career.
He was a winner of 10 PGA Tour titles, the last of which was the 1997 MasterCard Colonial. He had a further 12 international victories to his name, including a hat-trick of Nedbank Golf Challenge titles and the South African ‘Grand Slam’ of the South African Open (twice, in 1986 and 1999), the South African Masters in 1987 and the South African PGA Championship in 1994.
Frost’s 1999 SA Open triumph, his last on the Sunshine Tour and European Tour, was an emotional one. It came at Stellenbosch Golf Club, where he had learned his golf.
But then came a steady decline in his form.
‘I reached the point where I’d had enough,’ he said. ‘I was irritated and not at all excited about playing golf. My standard of play was a big letdown for me.’
At the age of 47 and having completely lost his love for golf, Frost rediscovered something when he took his son for a lesson with David Leadbetter.
‘I picked up a swing thought there in terms of swinging the club faster, which all the young guys are doing. Then I started making cuts again and played well at the 2006 SA Open [where he finished 31st]. Suddenly I had all this energy to play again.’
Frost had always felt the only thing missing from his career on the regular tours was a Major. He came close several times.
He had three top-10s at The Masters, including eighth in 1988, tied fifth in 1995 and tied 10th in 1996. He also finished tied 10th at the 1987 PGA Championship. And at The Open, Frost has also had three top-10s, including sixth in 1987, and tied seventh in 1988 and 1999.
The 1999 performance will certainly give him heart as he heads to Carnoustie for the Senior Open Championship. It was on this famous links in 1999 that Frost finished only four shots out of the playoff between eventual Open champion Paul Lawrie, and Justin Leonard and Jean van de Velde. After three rounds he shared fourth place with Tiger Woods.
‘The unfortunate thing is I still have nightmares about the golf course in 1999,’ he says. ‘From the way it ended with Jean van de Velde messing up the way he did. That topic comes up many times. Miguel Angel Jiminez and I even spoke about it during an airport layover in Chicago recently. Then the condition of the golf course where the greenkeeper went and fertilised a bunch of the rough without the consent of the R&A – it was horrible.’
But Frost will head back there now knowing that even Carnoustie might go a little easy on the seniors. And that may be out of respect for that generation and the values it brought to professional golf, which Frost believes is reflected in most of today’s young stars too.
‘There is such a good clean image about today’s top players. We’re kind of back in the era where people thought it was fun to watch golf, like in the days of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. It was always a nice clean image and the players were accessible, and I think it’s getting there again.’
1986 SA Open
1987 Safmarine Masters
1988 Tucson Open
1989 Sun City Million Dollar Challenge, NEC World Series
1990 Sun City Million Dollar Challenge, USF & G Classic
1992 Sun City Million Dollar Challenge, Buick Classic, Dunlop Phoenix, Hardee’s Classic
1993 Canadian Open, Hardee’s Classic
1994 Canon Greater Hartford, Hong Kong Open, Lexington PGA Championship
1997 Mastercard Colonial
1999 SA Open
2009 39th ($308 736)
2010 10th ($1 186 992)
2011 23rd ($802 019)
2012 12th ($1 189 740)
2013 4th ($1 817 234)
2014 13th ($1 051 209)
2015 23rd ($874 821)
CURRENT 8th ($487 253)
BACK IN THE DAY
‘First there was thunder, then there was lightning, then there was hail. Finally, there was Frost.’ – Intro in The Argus Group of newspapers after David Frost had taken the first round lead at the 1989 Sun City Million Dollar Challenge (which he won).