4 December 2015
GolfNews catches up with Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who will become his country’s first ever Ryder Cup player should he make Darren Clarke’s team next year. And following another consistent season, which yielded his third European Tour win, the 29 year old from Vienna is in with more than a fighting chance
How did it feel to eclipse Markus Brier to become your country’s most successful ever golfer following your win at the French Open in June?
Markus was the first Austrian on tour when I was growing up as a young amateur and he was someone I really looked up to. He was not only very supportive of me personally, but lots of the other young players. He has definitely helped all of us Austrian golfers believe that we can achieve great things in the game. I’ve been good friends with Markus for a long time, and I knew he was watching when I won in Paris. It was his 47th birthday on the same day that I won, but I’m not sure it was much of a present, especially now that I’ve beaten his record of tour wins!
You’ve been the model of consistency in the last couple of seasons, without getting the wins you perhaps deserve. Why is that?
Yes, I had lots of top 20s last year, lots of finishes 10th and 15th, and just wasn’t quite able to get myself up there in the hunt. This year, I’ve managed to convert a lot of those into top 10s, and of course, I got myself over the line in at the French Open, so we’re definitely moving in the right direction. The more I put myself into positions to win, hopefully more comfortable I’ll be with it. You can’t force these things.
You came very close to winning in Qatar and Malaysia earlier in the season, and the again at the Irish Open. How disappointed were you not to get the job done at those events, and what made the difference in France?
I really don’t think of those results as disappointments. Finishing second or third is a great week, actually. The way I tried to look at it was that I for most of those two or three weeks I played great golf. I had the opportunity to win, but couldn’t quite take it. You learn from it. It is just part of accepting the nature of game. You can’t control how other people play, and sometimes someone plays better than you. However, I knew my day would come, and I was delighted that it came at such a great event as the French Open.
You seem to thrive on tough courses, why is that?
I like courses where you get challenged a bit more, and you’re not shooting about 20 under par to win, which was the case obviously in Ireland and in France. I also played really well at the US Open, but just had three shocking holes – which was really easy to do at Chambers Bay – and that totally killed my score. But apart from that, I was quite happy with the way I played there and was pretty pleased with my form.
You got your first proper taste of global attention after you played in the final round of last year’s US PGA Championship with Rory McIlroy. What did you learn from that experience?
That it is a situation that I’d like to be in more often. Shooting 74 wasn’t quite the Sunday I would have hoped for, but it was a great experience, and it showed me that I can be up there with the best if my game is in good shape. I took a lot of positives out of it. Playing in the final group in a major, and being in contention to win, was a great experience, and hopefully can get myself there again in the near future. I’m disappointed that I’ve not played well in the Majors. I’ve played well in the other bigger events in Europe, and won a couple, but the Majors are at a completely different level. But, you know, many things are still the same. You’re still out there with your caddie trying to do the best you can.
You’re ranked inside the top 10 in Europe and 25th in the world, are you now feeling at ease on the world stage?
I’m certainly a lot more relaxed when I play in the big events, as I feel I’ve earned my place in the top flight with my results, and have no reason to be stressed. Having won again, and secured a two-year exemption, I feel like I can go out there and play with a bit more freedom, and that is the best way for me to play.
The stats show you’re averaging almost 300 yards off the tee this season. What is the key to your power?
I think I’ve actually scaled back a little bit with my distances this season. I’ve always been in the top 20 or so for driving, but I’ve realised it’s not always about the big hit, but more about finding fairways, especially on tighter tracks. So I’m focusing a little more on accuracy rather than distance. But to answer your question, I’m quite tall and I have got a lot of weight to put behind the ball. I’ve got great equipment that I can trust, as well, and that combination, mixed in with a little bit of talent, seem to get the ball out there.
Austria is more known for producing world-class skiers than it is golfers, so who got you into golf?
My father owns a big sports shop back in Austria, which was near to which a golf course that opened up when I was about eight or nine years old. I started going to the driving range there soon after, and really enjoyed it. I started practicing seriously from the age of 13 or 14, and quickly moved from club teams to national junior squads.
So what’s your skiing handicap?
I would probably give myself a high single handicap, eight maybe. I’m decent. I’m not going to fall over unless somebody runs me over, let’s put it that way. I don’t have much time for skiing these days because we have quite a tight schedule. Also, I broke my collarbone in a skiing accident about 10 years ago, so I know that have to be careful, as my body needs to be fit for golf these days.
Austria is bidding to host the 2022 Ryder Cup, alongside Germany, Italy and Spain. What are the strengths of the Austrian bid, and what would it mean to you to be in that team in six years’ time, or perhaps even next year at Hazeltine?
The Ryder Cup is the greatest golf event in the world, and anyone I’ve spoken to who has played in it says that there is nothing else to compare with it. Its pure goose bumps. It would be incredible to have the Ryder Cup in Austria, and it would be even more incredible to be a part of it. The Austrian bid has many strengths, in fact, I believe there are many elements that are the strongest of the four nations. Certainly, Fontana [Austria’s bid venue] already has the experience of hosting Tour events, and its stadium-style design is perfect for offering great views for lots of fans, as well as creating exciting match play golf. It’s a quality course and there’s always a great atmosphere there. Its location, close to Vienna, and the centre of Europe, is also a big plus. Throw in wonderful Austrian hospitality and our renowned organisational skills, and you have a great combination for hosting the Ryder Cup!
What are your favourite Ryder Cup memories?
The first one I remember watching was at Valderamma in 1997. As for favourite memories, I’d have had to say Jamie Donaldson’s wedge at Gleneagles last year; GMac’s putt at Celtic Manor in 2010, and Tiger Woods’ putt into the water at Valderrama.
What is the set up in Austria for bringing on the next generation of wannabe Wiesbergers?
With around 150 clubs and less than 100,000 members, the pool of talent from which to find elite players is small, but the Austrian Federation has done a great job in building up a strong base of good, young players, and now they’re able to pick the best fruits from the tree. A lot of the amateurs we have are now showing some great potential, so it’s an exciting time for Austrian golf.
Who are the names we should be looking out for?
There are a couple of good young Austrian players out there, including Matthias Schwab and Manuel Trappel. Manuel won the European Amateur in 2011, and qualified for the Open in 2012, and he’s now playing on the Challenge Tour. Matthias was in the final of the Amateur Championship a few years ago, and he’s now at university in America. He has a younger brother, Johannes, who’s also talented, so the future looks bright for Austrian golf.