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What lies below the surface?

Professional golfers have to learn to take the rough with the smooth, David Polkinghorne writes

Professional golf conjures images of flying personal jets around the world, winning millions of dollars, living in a mansion in Florida and having your own line of clothing, but it's not always as glamorous as it seems.

There's always tales of hopefuls sleeping in their car during tournaments to try and make ends meet.

Canberra's Nikki Campbell and former world No. 1 Karrie Webb have both spent more than a decade chasing that pesky white ball around the world and the pair are in Canberra this week for the Women's Australian Open at the Royal Canberra Golf Club.

The top Australian tournament is coming to the nation's capital as part of its 100th birthday.

While the women's game is still dwarfed by the prize money the men make, those at the pinnacle can make a very comfortable living.

Webb, who stormed to her eighth Australian Ladies Masters at the Gold Coast last Sunday, is one of the greatest female golfers ever to play the game. She lives in Florida, having grown up in far North Queensland, and has won more than $17 million over a stellar career spanning almost 20 years.


Webb knows all about the glamour.

The 38-year-old rediscovered some of her best form in 2012 and is aiming for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016.

On the other hand, Campbell struggled last year and lost her spot on the Japan Tour, where she's spent the last 10 years plying her trade.

She ended a tough 12 months facing the distinct possibility her time on the road was over.

The 32-year-old, who turned professional in 2002, was forced to qualify for the Ladies European Tour - which she did with consummate ease.

The move has helped re-invigorate Campbell's love of the game, but it will also provide a new set of challenges.

Playing in Japan meant Campbell could fly home for a fortnight every five or six weeks, something she won't be able to do from Europe.

She's also lost the clothes sponsorship deal she had while in Japan, giving her another cost to cover with her prize money once she joins the LET.

Campbell says playing golf was a dream job when things were going well, but a terribly lonely one when it wasn't.

''It is hard sometimes to get away from golf,'' she says. ''Especially when you're playing badly, you can get down on yourself and analyse things a bit too much.

''To step away and for me being able to come home and get a break from it [was important].''

Luckily, during the tough times she had her partner, Damon Welsford, also a golfer, who took time out from his own game to caddie for Campbell.

It meant she always had someone there to ease the burden. ''Last year, Damon came over with me because I didn't really fancy doing another year by myself,'' Campbell says.

''I found that, maybe the older I get, golf still means a lot to me but it's not everything and I think that makes it a little bit lonelier when I travel.

''So hopefully he'll come to Europe and we can travel around together.''

It's not uncommon for a golfer's caddie to be their closest friend on tour.

That is certainly the case for Campbell, and also for Webb.

She has had Mike Paterson as her caddie for the past 12 years, with Webb describing their relationship as like a ''marriage''.

''I class Mikey as one of my best friends,'' Webb says. ''He probably knows more about me than anyone else in my life.

''It is kind of like a marriage because when we're working together we spend seven or eight hours a day together and there's a lot of time between shots to talk.

''We've talked about everything, we've crossed the line many times in many conversations and now I think that's just our goal to keep crossing that line and making it even a little bit more blurry than it already is.''

While it's been a long time since Webb has had to worry about making ends meet, she does admit the constant travel while playing on the US-based Ladies Professional Golf Association tour can be taxing.

She doesn't have the luxury of a private jet enjoyed by some top male golfers, including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy.

Instead, she gets to lug her 30-kilogram golf bag with her wherever she goes.

But even though it can be a drag, she still plans to travel when she retires, having well and truly caught the bug.

At the moment the most sightseeing she gets to do is either the view from the golf course or when she's looking for a restaurant after the day's play.

It's something she wants to rectify when she finally hangs up her clubs.

''It's probably not the favourite part of my career, getting on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Florida and then being home for 10 days and heading back to Japan,'' Webb says.

''As you get older those trips don't get any easier and definitely not [easier] on your body.

''And we do have a lot of long-haul flights now. We play in Asia at the beginning of the year and the end of the year … it's just tough with time change and tough on your body sitting on a plane for that long.''

Webb is one of the lucky few whose work is playing golf and the irony that most people play on their days off isn't lost on the Australian legend.

Watching the rest of us having fun out on the golf course, while enjoying a beverage, is something she's looking forward to.

But for now, she'll stick to fishing as her relaxation - a pastime she grew up doing with her dad.

Off the coast of Florida, you can find her deep-sea fishing and reeling in the odd whopper on her days off.

''I've always said I'd like to know what it feels like to go and play golf for fun,'' she says. ''That's what people do on their day off and you go and have a couple of beers while you're playing, and don't care if you hit it in the trees.

''I like watching people doing that because I know they're just out there to be in the good weather on a nice day playing a game of golf.

While Webb was out catching her dinner, Campbell was sampling the Japanese fare. Her tastes evolved during the decade she spent in the Land of the Rising Sun as she became more adventurous as the years went by.

What she initially loved slowly became less appealing as she expanded her horizons and took her taste buds along for the ride.

She won't have long to miss the Japanese food, though, when she starts playing in Europe - she'll be too busy testing out a whole range of new options.

Morocco, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and England - the land of the deep-fried potato - all host tournaments for the LET.

''I went through stages over there [in Japan], things that I originally liked when I first went I don't like any more and I now eat stuff that I wouldn't have tried 10 years ago,'' Campbell says.

''You get a bit more adventurous the more you're in a country. It's funny how your taste changes and things you expect never to try end up your favourite things.''

The strong, gamey taste of eel is something that falls into the latter category.

When the going is good, golf is a great way to put food on the plate and the better it's going the better the food.

But when you're spending a lot of your time in the rough, it can be tough to make ends meet.

And too much airline food is never a good thing.

■ Women's Australian Open: At the Royal Canberra Golf Club, Thursday to Sunday. Tickets are available from Ticketek.