Clive Johnston has been swinging a golf club for almost six decades.

The amiable 68-year-old Aussie first laid his hands on a club as a 10-year-old when he caddied at a golf course near his home in Dundas in Sydney's western suburbs to earn pocket money.

While the players were putting out, Johnston would go ahead to the next tee, whip a club out of the bag and have a swing.

He first kit included a 3 iron, a putter and an old 3 wood but he'd sneak on to the nearby course and belt balls up and down the fairways until the greenkeepers told him to scram.

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"I'd swing in the backyard. Mum would come out and watch and tell me to keep my head still. I'd chip balls over fences into the neighbours. There was no way a youngster could become a club member in those days because it was too expensive."

Johnston started to play regularly at his high school and, every Wednesday afternoon, he and other students would play nine holes. As a 13-year-old, he played in a school tournament.

"I played in that and won the Under-14 grade. But really I was just a caddying kid playing part-time golf," he said.

Maybe, but that was the trigger.

In those days a kid could leave school in Aussie when they were 14 and-a-half. One day, sitting outside the pro shop waiting for a caddying job, the club pro "summoned" him.

"He asked me what I would be doing when I left school and asked if I'd like to be an assistant golf pro at the Oatlands Golf Club in Dundas. It was that simple and that's how it started."

It was menial stuff for the young Johnston. He'd clean members' irons as well as buff and put new shellac on their woods, rubbing them back with steel wool and re-coating them.

That job lasted six months and he moved to another pro shop at Muirfield at North Rocks north of Dundas. Here things were a lot different. The course was still being built but the club's pro, Tom Moore, was very friendly and involved Johnston in the pro shop.

Three years later and now 18, he'd passed his exams and was a fully fledged golf pro, teaching some of the members. And he'd practise every day and played on his days off. It was total immersion golf.

Four years later and Johnston was a scratch golfer, most times shooting around par or better.

"A young bloke I was coaching urged me to enter the New South Wales Open. I'd never played a four-round tournament and didn't know what to do but I entered.

Weather for the opening round was wicked, with strong winds and rain. He was playing with Aussie golfing legend Kel Nagle and shot 74 "which wasn't too bad".

Come the second round and he shot a two-under 70. Third round he played to par.

"The Sunday of the fourth round the papers came out with this huge write-up about this young up-and-coming golf pro in his first tournament.

"They were talking about me"

That last round he was drawn to play with Billy Dunk, another legend, but Johnston folded: "I just didn't know how to handle it."

He choked on the outward nine and was eight over. Things improved on the homeward nine and his 81 saw him finish eighth.

"Half my golf club was out there, all my family was there, my mum, everyone. and here I was trying to perform for all of them. It was a shock to the system, but that decided me that maybe I could make it on the tour. Soon after I left Muirfield and went on the tour."

Next was a pro-am event at Gosford and he tied for first place - with Dunk - and then came pro-ams and tournaments. He was making a living on the circuit and it was like that for a few years. But then marriage and commitments made him decide to quit the tour and return to being a club pro.

There were jobs at a variety of clubs, playing the occasional tournament and with success but he could never get to the top.

"I couldn't get four rounds together. I had success in big tournaments including the Australian Open, the PGA. I'd be in the lead or near it after two rounds and then the third round I always fell away for some reason. I'd come back in the final round but by then it always too late," Johnston said.

He said it was a mental issue - he didn't believe he had the ability, or the right, to win. "It was more lack of confidence when I think back on it. I could win one, two or three round events but never four. I never won a four-round tournament and stopped playing."

He got involved in the senior tour once he was 50, but most of those were three-round events or fewer. His best finish was a third in the Australian PGA Seniors when he was 52, earning his biggest cheque of $6500.

But knowing where his skills best lay, Johnston went to the US in 1993 to extend his teaching knowledge, specifically to sit an exam. It was a 520-question exam, run over a year, and based on the laws of force in motion. Pretty esoteric stuff, all about physics and geometry.

"The end to that was to see the guy who was the top man in the world, Ben Doyle. I worked for four weeks with him directly."

Johnston was well aware that under tournament pressure he would hook the ball and that was a killer. He wanted to find out why. He did and since then he's been teaching others a way to overcome it. "There are thousands and thousands of people who need help, but you've got to help them in the right way.

"There are things you can and can't do with a golf swing. When you have a circular motion on a tilted plane, you have to comply to the laws that bond it all together."

Reflecting now, Johnston said had he been armed with that knowledge earlier he would have won on tour.

"The mind does play a big part. As soon as you hook it, your mind says 'Here we go again. You're going to blow another one.' It's very hard to control that."

Johnston got his degree with the Golfing Machine, which is now a big part of the professional golfing world, and he stays in touch with the organisation via the internet and emails.

"Golf is an art form, To train the mind, to train the body, to apply the club to the ball at the right time, and with the correct alignments, is mind-blowing. It's a small piece of metal going on to a small golf ball and you have to meet it absolutely to make a perfect shot. When that happens, there's nothing like it."

Johnston moved to New Zealand as coaching director with Premier Golf Courses in Auckland and that's where his career teaching in this country started. There was the return to Australia when he turned 50 to try the Seniors tour. He came back to New Zealand and to the Katikati Golf Club as its pro before coming to Wanganui six years ago.

"I've really enjoyed my time here. It's a lovely place to live and it's been good to us."

The Johnstons will stay in Wanganui until the housing market bounces back before looking at a future move. After some time relaxing, he's going to get back into golf, practising and then probably playing some of the Senior events.

In his time, he's seen major evolution in the game and the gear. As a playing pro, he was using thin steel irons and wooden-headed drivers.

"The new gear now can make an average club player a lot better. They're more forgiving clubs. The clubs will be offset to stop players slicing the ball and they can hit it further. Suddenly, the average player can hit it further and straighter with their same old swing. But, at the end of the day, if you can't apply the laws of force and motion, those clubs are not going to help you that much."

Through it all Johnston's love of the game has never wavered and he still wants to hit the perfect golf shot.

"If you hit one shot a round that's perfect, you're blessed. You can hit a lot of good ones and a lot of bad ones but, every so often, you'll hit one that's absolutely perfect. That's the ultimate.

"I still want to be able to walk out there, take out a 1 iron and drill it 200m dead straight down the fairway and know I've done it."

Call it his Holy Grail.