It’s a question that even Wayne Perske’s father had to ask, and who is still unsure of the answer he was given. Geoff Ogilvy gave him a quizzical look when Perske mentioned during the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship in November that he was contemplating entering All Abilities tournaments in 2024.
So why is a former touring professional with a Japan Golf Tour win and an appearance at The Open Championship teeing it up in a tournament with eight others for no prize money?
The same reason others have been drawn to play Webex All Abilities Players Series events.
“Purpose,” said Perske, who will make his All Abilities debut at the Webex Players Series Murray River this weekend at Cobram Barooga Golf Club.
Accompanying Perske on his return to tournament golf is his wife Vanessa, who will juggle duties as both his caddie and carer.
Even before hitting his first shot, Vanessa has seen something return that has been lacking since he was forced to retire from professional golf at the end of 2015.
“Just to get out of bed for Wayne now, he’s got this little burning passion deep down,” Vanessa adds.
“It’s nice to have that spark back in him. He’s got that little twinkle in his eye again. It’s fun.”
‘Tiger’s had one, I’ve had four’
This is not a story of an old pro with a crook back looking to recapture former glories.
Perske was born with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine not conducive to hitting thousands of golf balls a day.
After his second spinal fusion, Perske was told to never play golf again; his fourth was just 18 months ago.
It is a condition that has plagued him throughout his career and put a strain on his family.
Picking up his kids – now 17 and 18 – was fraught with danger; bending down to put a cup in the dishwasher could cause such pain that he would be laid up for days.
Wayne would spend family holidays lying in bed while Vanessa and the kids explored. They have recently downsized to an apartment in Brisbane so maintaining a lawn is not a family concern.
“Bulging discs, ruptured discs, bone-on-bone, bits of disc floating in the spinal column, nitrogen bubbles. It got to the point where I would twist and I could hear it,” Perske explains.
“Then nerve stuff. I started to have a drop-foot. I was falling over because I couldn’t lift my leg properly.
“They had to relieve that nerve pain by doing a fusion but where they fused wasn’t actually where the pain was coming from. They had to go in again but from the front because it was quite low.
“They cut me from the belly button down to my groin. They take your guts out; slap it on a thing beside you and they drill into your spine from the front.
“About halfway through the operation, I was bleeding quite badly so they had to abandon it.
“When I came out of that surgery, not only did I have to recover from the trauma of surgery from the front, but the back pain was worse.”
Ultimately, Perske would go under the knife for a third time to have four rails inserted that stretch from the base of his spine to halfway up his back, held together by eight screws.
“I’ve now got four fusions in my spine. Tiger had one fusion, I’ve got four,” he adds.
‘It was a dilemma for me’
The idea of playing in All Abilities tournaments was first sparked in Perske by watching the 2022 Australian All Abilities Championship at Victoria Golf Club.
It was a new avenue into a world that he formerly inhabited and which is becoming more and more populated by outstanding golfers playing in events all around the world.
After making contact with Golf Australia, he was assigned National Eligibility Assessor Sam Taylor, who conducted a physical assessment to ensure that Perske met the minimum impairment criteria set by the International Golf Federation (IGF).
After this physical examination, Perske was determined to meet the minimum impairment criteria for a World Ranking Pass (WR4GD).
Then it was a matter of making it public.
“I was a little anxious in terms of a lot of people who don’t know the full story,” Perske admits.
“People on Facebook just know me from my previous careers as an elite professional and now a coach.
“I post something about my back operation, people say ‘Get well soon’, but they don’t really understand the extent of it. They still expect me to shoot really good scores. And to be honest, I still have that expectation that I’m going to go out and hopefully win.
“I just want to get out there and enjoy it without the expectation of performance.
“It’s always going to be there, underlying, so it’s a dilemma for me.”
Yet while he can’t deny the competitive instinct that fuelled his former playing career, Perske wants to impact All Abilities golf in a broader sense.
He has signed on as the Touring Professional for Gunabul Homestead in Gympie that caters specifically to All Abilities golfers, has sponsorship deals with Wellness Group Australia and CRE Insurance and is playing Wilson Staff golf clubs.
Combined with his coaching commitments at Golf24 in Brisbane, Perske wants to leverage his past to give others a prosperous future in golf.
“Once I was told that I don’t have to feel guilty, that I do have a significant impairment that stops me from playing with the big boys, why not play?” Perske says.
“And now I see myself as potentially raising the profile of that area of golf.
“Events such as the Webex Players Series are amazing and probably the future of golf in Australia with the inclusion of women, juniors and All Abilities players.
“The vibe around here is amazing and I hope I can be part of making it even bigger and better.”