Standing on the first tee of the Australian GC with 18 other Australian Open champions of past eras spanning seven decades, the mean-spirited observer might well have looked at 42-year-old Stephen Allan and said: “Well, he was only a default champion.”
That’s because there is an asterisk beside the line of 2002 – Stephen Allan – Victoria Golf Club that denotes the championship was reduced to 54 holes.
But, no way did Allan feel out of place among the other perhaps more familiar names who have raised the Stonehaven Cup in victory when those 19 champions gathered on Wednesday to hit a ceremonial tee shot on the eve of the playing of the 100th Open.
“It was great, absolutely, to see all the legends. I’d never met David Graham. I shook his hand at the (cocktail) party on Tuesday night and he was a lovely guy. I hadn’t met Frank either, nor Jordan Spieth,” Allan said today.
He’d just finished his third round of the 2015 Emirates Open with a one over par 72 to stand at five over and not even the proverbial bus running among the tail-end of the field tomorrow does he stand a chance of victory.
He is a fan of Spieth, even pausing momentarily today on course to watch the American star hit a few shots at the practice chipping/bunker area adjacent to the 17th tee.
“He’s just playing unbelievable (this year) so how could you not be a fan,” Stevie said.
The reason for that asterisk for 2002 wasn’t Australian golf’s finest hour because the first day’s play was abandoned shortly after 2pm because of the marble top greens were simply unpayable.
Rich Beem, the reigning US PGA champion was with us this week and he remarked: “I’ve never had an event cancelled in perfect weather. I think we were all laughing. I think it is quite humorous.”
And Stuart Appleby noted: “You could hear footsteps on the greens. They played with Victoria which is like a snake and they got bitten.”
My friend and colleague Patrick Smith wrote in The Australian the other day that Allan looks like he needs a baby-sitter rather than a caddie.
Yes, he is still the baby-faced chap he was in his youth and definitely on the leaderboard of the nice guys in golf.
You as the default question and he smiles rather than scowls.
“I can understand why people say that because it was three rounds. The hardest round in golf is to win in the last round and we knew it was the last round,” Allan said.
“I stood on the first tee and I was tied with Rich Beem. We had good players behind us. Adam Scott, (American) Charles Howell, Badds (Aaron Baddeley), and Appleby.
“You stand on the last tee in the final round and you win. If I was the third round leader and it got called off then, yes, I would have been a default champion,” he said.
The Australian Open and the 1998 German Open remain Allan’s only tournament victories in a 19-year span of travelling. He played the European Tour for four years and then headed across the Atlantic to try his game in the land of the Stars and Stripes and the biggest golf cheques of them all.
He came so close to winning twice of the PGA Tour, losing a play-off with Vaughan Taylor in Reno in 2004 and finished runner-up the Kenny Perry in Milwaukee the previous year.
This year, he so nearly graduated back onto the big tour from the secondary Web.Com tour finishing 31st in the regular season when a top 25 would have secured a player’s card and then entered the last event of the play-offs inside the top 25 but missed the cut to slip out the top 25.
But, it wasn’t wiped the smile off his face. He’ll head back to the Web.Com again next year. He still manages to keep his head above water, financially that is, but it’s not a life of five-star hotels, etc.
His American-born wife Bridget and their three children Liam (9), Joey (7) and Zac (4) remain home in Scottsdale, Arizona while he travels the Web.Com Tour, save for a handful of events each year that are closer to home.
He’s sold their Melbourne bayside apartment to continue to follow his dream – and he’ll keep on smiling.