At 82 years of age, Bruce Devlin knows a life tending to drains and unblocking toilets around the Riverina would have taken its toll.
If it wasn’t for an impromptu lunch visit by Norman von Nida in April of 1961, Devlin has no doubt he’d be nursing the aches and pains that come from 50 years of crawling and contorting his way into confined spaces.
The individual winner of the inaugural Eisenhower Trophy in 1958 and Australian Open champion at Lake Karrinyup whilst still an amateur in 1960, Devlin had not considered earning a living by playing golf as a career path worth pursuing.
He now stands as one of the finest players Australia has ever produced and in contention to be crowned Australia’s Greatest Golfer. Devlin accounted for Frank Phillips in Round 1 and now faces off against 2019 Women’s PGA champion Hannah Green for a place in the quarter-finals.
Working in his father’s plumbing business around Goulburn and up into Canberra, the reigning Australian Open champion returned home for lunch one day this April to find not only his wife Gloria waiting for him but an unexpected guest with a proposal too good to refuse.
“I really didn’t have much interest in turning pro to be quite honest with you and then I came home that lunchtime and Norman was sitting in the kitchen with my wife and they talked me into turning pro,” recalls Devlin from his home in Texas.
“I was in the plumbing business with my dad, I was going through technical college… I really had no intentions of turning pro.
“It was a bit of a shock to come back to the apartment that my wife and I had in Goulburn and see Norman sitting in the little kitchen that we had.
“I don’t know how long he’d arrived before lunch but obviously he and Gloria had had some conversations before I got home.
“Whatever happened as a result of that is history.”
Having once told a young Devlin he’d be better off plumbing than pursuing life as a pro golfer, so confident was von Nida in Devlin’s ability that he effectively bank-rolled his switch into the play-for-pay ranks.
“It was a financial decision. In those days I was making $175 a week from my dad’s busines and Von said to me that he thought I should turn pro,” says Devlin.
“To convince me he said that I could give him all of my prize money and he’d make sure that I got a cheque for $50,000.
“That was a ridiculous number to me but he said that if I turned pro that I’d make more than that.
“That sounded like a hell of a lot of money to me in those days.”
Devlin would go on to win eight times on the PGA TOUR and earn $US907,069 in prize money, von Nida never once putting out his hand per the original agreement.
“He never did. Never ever did,” Devlin adds.
As for that ‘sliding doors’ moment almost 60 years ago, there is no doubt in Devlin’s mind what his alternate reality was destined to be.
“I’d still be a plumber in Australia. I’m sure that’s what would have happened,” said the two time Australian PGA champion.
Career wins: 31
PGA TOUR wins: 8
Australasian Tour wins: 19
Australian Open: Won (1960)
Australian PGA: Won (1969, 1970)
Career wins: 7
LPGA Tour wins: 2
ALPG Tour wins: 2
Women’s Australian Open: 3rd (2018)
Oates Vic Open: T3 (2018)