The G4D Open

The G4D Open | Meet Wayne Perske and Chris Willis

The R&A
11 May 24
4 mins

Wayne Perske rubbed shoulders with the world’s best when he played in The Open in 2006 as an aspiring professional. Now the Australian has overcome severe back injuries as he prepares to make his debut next week alongside leading golfers with a disability in The G4D Open.

The 49-year-old’s journey to Woburn is remarkable having won as a professional on the Japan Golf Tour in 2006 and then qualified to take his place in The Open at Royal Liverpool via the Mizuno Open. While Tiger Woods lifted the Claret Jug after an impressive display on the fast-running Hoylake links, Perske – who was born with the degenerative spine disease scoliosis – missed the cut and then endured years of struggle with back surgeries and challenges in his private life. “Looking back to 2006, it was my best season,” recalls Perske, who won last week's inaugural Scottish Open for Golfers with a Disability. “I played most of my career in Japan. It was lush and green as it could possibly be in July and then I came across to Hoylake and it was so dry when I was expecting wind and rain coming in sideways! I was in the middle of my best form and also awaiting the birth of my son so there was a lot going on.

Harrington thrill

“The Open was an amazing experience. I played some practice rounds with Pádraig Harrington, who was in stellar form, Bernhard Langer and Geoff Ogilvy, who had just won the US Open. I also played with Adam Scott, like Geoff a mate of mine, so that was pretty cool. I remember Tiger holing a shot and the ground shook from the noise, he was incredible that week.  “Pádraig then came to play in Japan in 2009, he had won a couple of majors and was top five in the world, and we pretty much bumped into each other in a locker room. He was like ‘Wayne, how it’s going?’ It nearly floored me having only met him a few years before. It was cool.”  However, his back injury was taking its toll and it would be a year later in 2010 when he called time on his professional career. Four spinal fusion operations have since led to 12 screws inserted in his lower back. Perske was told he would never play golf again. He continued, “It got to the point where I was struggling with a lot of things. Having a young family and being away for 30 plus weeks a year was tough. When you are from Australia, it’s quite hard as you generally have to go overseas to try and progress your career. So I went to Japan but I was struggling with injuries and pretty extreme back pain.

Wayne Perske - Australia

“Golf couldn’t be a better sport for people with a disability, even for those who’ve had catastrophic injuries. It brings them back with a purpose. Even for me, my wife, Vanessa, says the spark is back in my eye.”

Physical and mental challenges

“From my mid-20s, it started to get really bad and I just didn’t tell as many people as I should have, to the point where I was taking so much anti-inflammatory and pain medication that I couldn’t digest any food and the lining of my stomach had rotted away. I was passing blood every time I went to the toilet and I lost so much weight. I only knew golf since the age of 12 and I was actually playing quite well. But I wasn’t in a great mental space and made some poor choices and that basically made the call for me that professional golf was done in 2010.” The journey has continued to the present day with Perske deemed eligible to compete again in All Abilities tournaments in 2024. Playing off a Handicap Index of +1.5 out of Pacific Golf Club in Brisbane, his ascent up the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD) has been rapid. He won in his first event in Australia and currently sits fifth in the gross standings.  “After being told by surgeons that I would not play golf ever again, I feel very fortunate to be able to compete on the G4D Tour and in All Abilities events in Australia,” he said. “When my injuries and conditions took it away from me, I struggled to find my passion. All abilities golf has reignited my passion not only for the game but for my life.”  Perske is also working in the disability space. He is Director of Golf at Wellness Australia Golf, helping people living with disabilities and passing on his life learnings.

New passion

“I was low personally but that hard journey to where I am now, helping golfers with disabilities, has given me a new life challenge,” he adds “Giving them lessons, providing opportunities and trying to help turn golf into a more inclusive sport is my motivation.  “Golf couldn’t be a better sport for people with a disability, even for those who’ve had catastrophic injuries. It brings them back with a purpose. Even for me, my wife, Vanessa, says the spark is back in my eye.” And what of his chances at The G4D Open, alongside 80 players from across the world from different impairment groups? “I’m looking forward to it,” he replies. “I’ve been speaking to Lachlan Wood, my countryman, who played last year and trying to learn from him. Being inside the ropes, playing in championships on really cool courses and getting the opportunity to go overseas couldn’t be better.”

The G4D Open

The event is staged in partnership with the DP World Tour and its inaugural playing was contested by 80 players over the Duchess course at Woburn on 10-12 May.  EDGA, formerly the European Disabled Golf Association, has been involved in the development of the championship and will continue to support in an advisory role.  Brendan Lawlor edged out Kipp Popert in a close contest for an historic win in the inaugural G4D Open in 2023.

Willis in confident mood

Chris Willis from Canada is looking to improve on his top-15 finish in the inaugural G4D Open when he returns to Woburn for the second running of the Championship, being contested over the club’s Duchess Course. Willis who plays to a scratch Handicap Index, enjoyed a stellar second half of 2023, winning both the Ontario Adaptive Championship and the Canadian All Abilities Championship. “I played Ontario right after the US Adaptive Championship,” says Chris. “It was on a great course called Weston where Arnold Palmer won his first PGA Tour event in 1955. It gave me a huge amount of confidence and I carried that through to the Canadian Championship where I won with an eagle in a play-off, which was a fun way to get the job done.” After playing in the inaugural G4D Open last year where he shared 14th spot, Chris was hugely impressed by the Championship and he was keen to return this season.

Thrilled to return

“The organisation, the quality of the course, the care and attention given to the competitors was superb and it was such a great experience,” he says. “I was eager to come back and am thrilled that I’m able to do so.” Chris, a schoolteacher from just outside Toronto, has been working hard on his game in the build-up to this year’s Championship and his preparation has included attending a EDGA (formerly the European Disabled Golf Association) training camp in Portugal over the winter. “I don’t feel I played particularly well last year at Woburn, apart from the first round,” he added. “So I’m hoping to improve. But of course, I’d love to win or have a top finish. That would be my goal. Since winning the Canadian Championship, I’ve had a lot of instruction, which I’ve never had in my life. The trip to Portugal gave me a lot of useful information that I haven’t had before. I’m really excited to see if that will translate to success.”

Chris Willis - Canada

“The organisation, the quality of the course, the care and attention given to the competitors was superb and it was such a great experience. I was eager to come back and am thrilled that I’m able to do so.”

Swing challenges

Chris’ right thumb is missing a knuckle and he’s missing a left thumb. Through surgery, his left index finger has been made into a thumb, enabling him to grip. “As my right thumb doesn’t have a knuckle,” he states. “I don’t have any pressure on top or on the side of the club like most people would. That can lead to a bit of a wobble and a closing of the clubface. On my left hand, I’m missing my left thumb, so my left index finger was taken and made into a thumb. The long thumb creates some inconsistencies, and the missing index finger also contributes to a closing of the clubface. It’s frustrating that often I make what I think is a good swing, but it has a 20-yard hook on it.” Despite the challenges, the 43-year-old plays to a very high standard and currently has a Handicap Index of +0.2. He has only been playing in golfers with a disability events since 2022 but has quickly become one of the best on the circuits. Chris is looking forward to the test posed by the Duchess Course once more and he is confident that what he learned last year will serve him well this time out. “On my practice round last year, I took a photo of the second hole and wrote, “narrow.” The course is difficult, it’s tight and the approach shots are key,” he says. “If you miss greens you have to miss in the right place. There are some spots where you’re in big trouble. It’s a course where strategy and clear thinking are essential to success.”

Entry free for spectators

Chris is one of three Canadians on the start sheet for the second G4D Open at Woburn. A truly international field will gather for the event, with players from no fewer than 19 countries participating.  The G4D Open, held in partnership between The R&A and the DP World Tour and supported by EDGA, is one of the most inclusive ever staged, featuring nine sport classes across multiple impairment groups. Spectators are encouraged to attend at Woburn from 15-17 May, with attendance and car parking free of charge.