Golf championships are difficult things to win and anyone who averages a win a season over a twenty-year career is judged to have been immensely successful.
The Texan, Hank Haney coached Tiger Woods from 2004 until just after ‘the scandal’ but his first pupil of any professional note was Mark O’Meara. The Californian had won the 1979 US Amateur championship and made his professional debut in the 1980 Australian Open at The Lakes.
From there he earned an American tour card and set off on his journey with a small car and smaller bank and a pretty ropey golf swing. He played well enough to be named Rookie of the Year in 1981 but by the end of the next season he was struggling to avoid a return to the school. Haney offered some advice and late season hope and he just survived the guillotine and spent 1983 combining trying to compete whilst retooling his golf swing. His faith in Haney was more than justified and at the end of the 1984 season he was second on the money list in America.
Fourteen years later he crowned his career by winning both at Augusta and Royal Birkdale in the Open Championship.
Haney was down in Australia a couple of months ago and spoke about a very simple formula O’Meara adopted and shaped his game around.
‘Mark was a terrific player’, said Haney. ‘He won two majors, tournaments all around the world as well as in America but he wasn’t so good he could afford to make mistakes and still win.’
‘He had a rule, a rule applying to all levels of golf, and it was, no three putts, no penalty shots and no double chips. If he could eliminate those basic mistakes he knew he had a decent chance of winning but it is the wasted shots, which kill off winning chances. Tiger could afford to make mistakes and still win but there haven’t been many like him.’
Rory McIlroy is perhaps in the Woods class but he broke all the rules on the 9th and 10th holes at The Australian on Saturday blowing away five shots in two holes and seemingly any chance of defending his championship. It was a bizarre thirty minutes precipitated by a tee shot flared way to the right on the 9th and up into Dunk’s Hill separating fairway from freeway. It was in 1975 Billy Dunk blew a chance to win The Open when his tee shot on the final hole found the big dune to the right of what was then the 18th hole
Rory’s catastrophe opening up the tournament to a few others including Brett Rumford, Jordan Spieth, Greg Chalmers, Rod Pampling and the man who is now the obvious favourite, Adam Scott.
Scott broke a few of O’Meara’s rules on Thursday’s front nine stumbling all the way to the turn in five over par. Since he has been very good but there are enough very good players close to him to ensure he will have to play his best to win.
The course this week has been difficult but it’s always been thus at Kensington. It favours those who drive a long way and can hit the towering irons into tight corners of the greens and no one hits them better than Scott. Difficult courses also favour grinding players with sharp short games and there are no sharper short games in this country than those of the two West Australians, Rumford and Chalmers.
Chalmers is a brilliant putter who used his shortest club only 50 times over the opening two rounds. Rumford’s longest club is his putter but he is the master from the shots around the green and from sand and time and again he flips bunker shots out within spitting distance of the cup.
Scott will look, as he always does, the most elegant and he will hit the prettiest shots. He will though have to play a round free of serious mistakes and The Australian is a course more likely than any other in the country to extract a big mistake. Just ask Rory McIlroy.