From the very first time I explored the underwater beauty of the coral reefs off Australia's Magnetic Island as a boy, I was hooked.
My sister and I spent many hours skin diving and spearing fresh fish. More often than not we would wander home at the end of the day in triumph, then dine on coral trout, red emperor or whatever the day's catch happened to be. And here's an interesting tidbit: Even before I was formally introduced to the game of golf, I fashioned one of my early spears using the shaft from a golf club attached to some surgical tubing. Perhaps that was a sign of things to come!
I have enjoyed many magical underwater experiences over the years: diving with great white sharks in Port Lincoln, a fishing town on the southern edge of Australia; cautiously ascending about 100 feet back-to-back with Nick Price as we maintained visual with a school of sharks that had surrounded us; cave diving; night diving; and cage diving in shark-infested waters.
Most importantly, however, the water has long been an escape. It has provided countless opportunities to get away with family and close friends and experience some quality time away from golf, business and everything else that is on my plate.
I remember one particular journey I made as a youth. I was with one of my schoolmates and his father. We were island-hopping on an extended trip. By day we would fish with a hand line over the side of our boat, or tip ourselves overboard and go searching for our prey with spearguns. By night we would anchor the boat in a sheltered lagoon along the Great Barrier Reef, wade ashore to one of the small islands and cook our catch over an open campfire—and then fall asleep under the stars.
One day I was well below the surface looking for my evening meal when I spotted a large fish, trained my speargun on it and pulled the trigger. The shot was a success, but the velocity of the spear sent the fish farther than I anticipated, embedding it in a coral outcrop.
I gave several tugs, but the spear would not budge. While I was pondering how to remove the spear from the coral, I glanced to my left and through the bubbles could see a six- or seven-foot shark approaching. I knew it wasn't after me—it wanted the big fish impaled on my spear.
I dropped everything and floated back to the surface, keeping a wary eye on the intruder in case he changed his mind. When I reached the surface I floated on my stomach and watched the shark through my mask. After a couple of quick bites, my catch was gone—Mother Nature at her best!
A couple of years ago I was diving with a good mate and I found myself in a spot of trouble. I was chasing a fish about ninety feet under water and I caught my regulator on a rock with an extremely sharp edge.
Well, I didn't realize it right away, but the rock had punctured the regulator. I knew I was in trouble when, after a few minutes, I found it nearly impossible to inhale. A quick assessment was made—I could go to my buddy ninety feet away or go to the surface. I opted for the latter, knowing full well that a slow ascent was imperative. Upon reaching the surface and climbing into the boat, however, I knew I had a mild case of the bends. I had pain in my joints that felt like someone was sticking me with needles. My diving was put on hold for a while. It was another lesson learned and an experience that reinforced the importance of knowing and respecting your environment at all times.