By OneAsia Media
TIANJIN, China, April 30 – Most young golf professionals can be forgiven for going on a spending spree when they bank their first winners’ cheque, but Daniel Popovic had other plans for the U.S. $237,000 he earned in December after claiming the Australian PGA Championship, presented by Coca-Cola.
Popovic’s mind will be concentrated on the biggest tournament of his career this week when he tees it up at the U.S. $2.3 million Volvo China Open in Tianjin, but his heart and soul will be back in Melbourne, where his father is battling cancer.
The 27-year-old was a fairytale winner of the OneAsia co-sanctioned Australian PGA Championship last year; an unheralded rookie who had at least a share of the lead from round one and held off the country’s best professionals down the stretch — including a slew of PGA Tour and European Tour veterans.
The story that touched the hearts of all who watched, however, was the revelation that Popovic’s father, Radi, was gravely ill with a rare form of bone cancer — too weak even to travel to the Palmer Coolum Resort to see his son’s first professional victory.
“My dad’s health at the moment is steady, but as many people know it’s very difficult to predict the future with cancer,” Popovic said ahead of the 19th staging of the Volvo China Open, co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the European Tour, at Tianjin Binhai Lake Golf Club.
“I haven’t lavished out and bought a new motorbike or car, instead I have spent it on getting my dad a good private health insurance and some of Australia’s best cancer and heart specialists to work with him in having his best opportunity to try and beat his illness.”
Popovic had shown little in his brief professional career to suggest he was a champion so soon in the making. At one point he worked as a “lollipop man” to make ends meet, holding a traffic sign so children could safely cross the road. He also took a job in a pizza parlour, adding the toppings to takeaways for a few dollars an hour.
“Reflecting on 2012, it finished on an unbelievable high,” he said. “After such a roller-coaster year emotionally, where I didn’t think I would even continue playing due to my father’s illness … winning the Australian PGA Championship and the celebrations for Christmas and New Year was the most satisfying holiday I think I will ever have.
“For my flight back home to Melbourne I had to pay excess baggage for my trophy — but I didn’t even care, and I still don’t. My main priority was getting that trophy back home to show my parents. It represented so much more than just a trophy — it was for all the struggles throughout the year.”
After the festivities, Popovic sat himself down for some soul-searching. “Starting in March, I re-dedicated myself to golf. I was very slow to remember how much that this game meant not only to myself, but also to my family,” he said.
“I have set my goals even higher for 2013 — and some of those I’ll keep close to my chest — but first and foremost is having another win on tour.”
Winners are grinners, the old adage says, and Popovic is already reaping the rewards of December’s victory — not least by signing with Chubby Chandler’s influential International Sports Management (ISM) company, which handles such luminaries as Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Advice from Greg Norman
“Unfortunately I have come across people that have said some harsh things towards me and my golfing ability earlier this year, but with some great advice from Greg Norman and forging a relationship with Chubby Chandler and ISM … I believe I am in the best hands now,” said Popovic.
“I like to surround myself with positive people, people who believe in me and have the same goals and direction I have. In this sport, with so many setbacks, it’s very hard to dig down and find belief and desire even at the best of times, so having a strong relationship and aligning yourself with the right people is crucial.”
Popovic has also stuck to the clubs that served him so well at Coolum last year — particularly a red-hot putter that seemingly could do no wrong.
“It’s very easy to fall in and out of love with golf clubs, but I seem to be very loyal and still in love with my putter,” he said.
And if he needs any more inspiration for this week — apart from self belief — then Popovic can look back on countryman Adam Scott’s Masters victory earlier this month.
“Since I was a kid I’ve watched the Masters, but I have never felt it more intensely than this year,” he said.
Inspired by Scott’s Masters victory
“I remember when Norman was beaten in 1996; I remember when (Stuart) Appleby had a chance in 2007; I remember when Jason Day, Scott and (Geoff) Ogilvy all had a chance in 2011.
“Now, finally, I and Australia can say: ‘I remember when Adam Scott won The Masters’. It is such a great thing to happen for Australian golf, and one that will go down in Australia’s all time greatest sporting moments.”
2013 Volvo China Open TV Times
Defending Champion South African Branden Grace will take on a quality field that also includes weekend winner Brett Rumford as well as fellow Aussies Marcus Fraser, Scott Strange, Nick Cullen, Andre Stolz and Matt Griffin.
Live Australian TV coverage on Fox Sports beginning Thursday 3.30pm to 7.30 pm
2013 Volvo China Open Leaderboard2013 Volvo China Open Leaderboard