From pizza maker to PGA champ for Popovic

Last updated 09:01 17/12/2012
Daniel Popovic
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PGA CHAMP: Daniel Popovic kisses his trophy after winning the Australian PGA.

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There wasn't so much as an inkling that this would happen. The closest thing to a premonition of Daniel Popovic's extraordinary week at the Australian PGA Championship was that he was clubbing his drives in the final round of last week's Open.

''Off the tee, I think he missed one tee shot [at the Australian Open]. He's just fixed up his iron play a little bit. Simple,'' said a dejected yet sporting Rod Pampling, the unfortunate yin to Popovic's yang in a storybook final round at Coolum.

Popovic, a 26-year-old from Lower Templestowe, in Melbourne's outer suburbs, arrived on the Sunshine Coast as a 400-1 roughie virtually no one had heard of.

He left with the Kirkwood Cup, $225,000 in his back pocket, took phone calls from Greg Norman and delivered one of the most emotional and memorable victories in the past 20 years of Australian golf.

Popovic led from start to finish, laying down the challenge with a first-round 64 before ducking the various kitchen sinks hurled in his direction from the cream of Australian golf, as well as British Open winner Darren Clarke.

Everyone waited for his inevitable tumble down the leaderboard. And waited. Popovic was the feel-good story that kept on giving. The only way was up.

When he holed out for par on the 18th green, after Pampling had found the water in cavalier pursuit of an SOS birdie, he dared look at the scoreboard for the first time all week.

It showed him at 16 under, four shots clear of Anthony Brown and the experienced Pampling, who birdied the first six holes to head Popovic by the end of the front nine, only to falter on the run home.

''Unbelievable, just unbelievable,'' Popovic said. ''There are no words to explain how good it sounds ... 2013 is going to be completely different from what I had planned two weeks ago.''

To say Popovic came from the clouds would be to vastly underplay the extent of his anonymity. The case against his winning at Coolum was overwhelming. He was a combined 38 over in his 12 previous tournaments, undercutting his decent cards with wild blowouts; he was No 1251 in the world; he spent part of his early 20s spinning road signs and making pizzas as he tried to pay for his golfing dreams; he battled bulging discs and broken wrists.

And he had put his career on hold for his father, Radi, who watched his son's victory unfold from Melbourne as he fights an incurable form of bone cancer that, along with a perilous fear of flying, kept him from witnessing the dream first hand.

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Radi introduced his son to golf and was his constant muse as he kept the field at bay in the PGA. Even when Pampling was sinking birdies like he was buttering toast, Popovic kept his head, conjuring remarkable self-assurance for a man with so little on which to draw.

''For him [Radi], it's going to be everything. He said he's so proud of me. So did my mum [Mila]. I cannot wait to give him a big bear hug. I don't know what to say. He's going to be so happy. We're going to have a pretty good party when I get back,'' Popovic said.

''[I thought of him] all the time. That is the difference, because of my father. That is why I am so confident and do back myself and do push myself on the golf course now.''

- Brisbane Times

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