He is preparing to compete on golf’s greatest stage but Kenneth Ferrie will not forget his humble beginnings, as Chief Sports Writer Paul Gilder reports.
THAT Kenneth Ferrie is a more complex character than your average sportsman becomes clear as soon as he begins to outline his interest in Maori culture and the unshakeable faith that he has developed in karma.
It was a little after 10am at Matfen Hall and outside the overnight frost had yet to clear from the fairways. Inside the drawing room, Ferrie had agreed to field questions on his qualification for the US PGA Tour. But first, he had important business to attend.
Having handed a cheque for £6,250 to a representative for Marie Curie Cancer Care, the benevolent 29-year-old presented the same amount to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The charities in question had been hand-picked to benefit from the Ferrie Foundation’s pro-am golf event – staged at Matfen in September. For a successful golfer turned successful fundraiser, giving something back is important.
“In Maori culture it’s said you have two hands, one is to receive and the other is to give,” he explained, having picked up the maxim from Michael Campbell, the New Zealander who clinched the US Open title in 2005, 12 months before Ferrie went close to emulating his achievement at New York’s Winged Foot course. “I first heard that two or three years ago, and I found it poignant.
“I’m a huge believer in karma. I believe that if you do good things, good things come to you. I’m fortunate. I do something for a living that I love, although some people might have heard me swear that I hate the game and I’ll never pick up a golf club again. I love it, it has given me a lot and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to do things for other people. To be able to give something back to people who are not as fortunate as I am is important to me.
“I believe that, if you give up your time for certain things and for people who appreciate it, good things come back to you. You get your rewards – it’s karma.”
Karma or not, Ferrie has had a rewarding end to 2007 having become the first North-East golfer to ever secure a place on the US PGA Tour. It is the sport’s biggest stage – the exposure immense and the prizes lucrative. But it will not diminish the determination that Ferrie has to make a difference in his native North-East.
“I’m going to be at the forefront even more,” said a man proud to be an ambassador for the Newcastle Schools Sport Partnership, a position that, having admitted it took ‘five seconds to think about’, he was glad to accept.
“I’ll be in the United States so I’ll not be as hands-on as I have been but the fact that I’m going to be so high profile means that I could make an even greater impact. I’m sure people look at me and think ‘He’s a good player, he’s done well, but he plays in Europe, he isn’t playing with the big boys’. That’s all changed, and the fact that I’m going to be on TV across the world, playing with Tiger Woods is certain to improve the image I have. I like to inspire people. I might inspire the next Tiger Woods to come from Benton, or I might inspire someone not to do something wrong in his youth and to become something he might not have become otherwise. I speak to kids and I’m always hearing ‘We don’t get the opportunities’. I like to use the slogan from the Adidas advert. Impossible is nothing. That’s the message I give them.”
Ferrie has proved nothing is impossible during a colourful career that has seen him win the European Open at the K-Club in 2005, lead the US Open in 2006, and book a place on the PGA Tour in 2007. That he is determined to use his example to inspire others is obvious as he prepares for his biggest season yet.
“People see me driving a nice car or on TV playing with Tiger, and some find it hard to believe that I’m from Ashington,” he said. “People think that I have come from money, but I’m from a working-class background. If that inspires one kid to realise that, with time, dedication and motivation, a club golfer like me can become a superstar playing on TV, I’ll feel that I’ve made a difference. If I can inspire one kid to take up golf, to take up sport or just to become a better person, I’ll be delighted. I like to think that I appeal to normal kids, because kids look at me and see a normal man.
I’ve got no airs and graces – I tell it like it is. I can be articulate when I want to be, but I am what I am. I’m an Ashington lad, I’m proud to be from Ashington, I come from a working-class background and I’ve never tried to hide from that. Home is Ashington and it always will be. I just want the kids to see that, no matter where you come from, you can do something if you have enough dedication and motivation.”
That he has exceptional sporting talent has aided his efforts, but Ferrie is determined to stress that attitude is just as important. “I don’t like second best,” he said. “I don’t settle for second best and if I feel that I’m at fault or that I’ve let myself down, I get annoyed. I’ve always had high standards. I don’t go into tournaments hoping to make the cut or finish in the top 10. I go to win. It’s the same no matter what I’m doing. The charities are delighted to get £6,250, to them it’s an amazing amount, an amount that can make a huge difference. But I’m disappointed, I hoped to raise much more than £12,500.”
Ferrie has pledged to better the sum next year and, although his participation on the fabled US Tour means he will have much on his plate, he is determined to ensure the good causes that are so close to his heart are not forgotten. “Marie Curie is close to most people,” he said. “Most families have suffered from cancer at some point and to be able to give to a fund that enables nurses to go into people’s homes, to keep them out of hospitals, and to make life as dignified as possible is something that means a lot to me.
“Make-a-Wish is the same. I’ve had the odd cold, the odd sniffle, the odd bad back. But, in the grand scheme of things, given what some people have to suffer, I’ve been so fortunate. When I hear about sick children, it doesn’t seem fair and it’s great to be able to help out. Given the prizes golfers compete for these days, £6,250 doesn’t sound like a lot, but this can grant many wishes.
“I always thought the funds went towards sending kids to Disneyland or to swim with dolphins but it’s not the case. Some wishes are as little as ‘I’d like an iPod’, things that cost £50 or £60. Most people take these things for granted but for others it doesn’t make days, it makes lives. It isn’t a great sacrifice to do that for someone, and it means the families don’t have to make sacrifices. They’re making enough as it is. I’m always willing to give my time. To ease the pressure on people in a time of need, a time of stress, is important to me. If I can use my name, my influence and my ability to help these charities, I will. For things like this, a day of my time is nothing.”
In the current sporting climate, it is refreshing to encounter a charitable character such as Ferrie. Determined to use his example to change lives and to help others, this is a man keen to put his position to the best possible use. In doing that, he stands out. “My parents sacrificed a lot to help me succeed and I just want to put something back,” he added.
“A role model doesn’t have to be a goody-two-shoes, a role model doesn’t have to do everything to the letter of the law, a role model can be a normal person and that’s where I hope I appeal. Golf has given me a lot and I’m not just talking about financial security. I’ve learnt a lot about myself through golf and that is something I’m keen to pass on to the kids. It’s a sport, but it’s much more than a sport. It teaches you etiquette, it teaches you about dressing well, and it teaches you about sportsmanship. Golf has given me so much – I just want to share it.”