Date: April 15, 2015
Author: Iain Payten

Global interest in Australian Open surges

The Australian Open’s reputation as a launching pad for a Major breakthrough appears to be fast-growing, with organisers reporting increased numbers of foreign players looking for a tee time in the 2015 tournament.

The interest has spiked after Jordan Spieth became the second consecutive Australian Open champion to claim a Major win in the following season with victory in the US Masters on Monday.

The victory of Spieth — who won the 2014 Stonehaven Cup in Sydney last November — came after Rory McIlroy did similarly a year earlier, winning the Open Championship and US PGA titles after the 2013 Australian Open.

Spieth and McIlroy both credited their Australian Open victories as turning points after enduring title droughts — 16 and 12 months respectively – before wins in Sydney.

At Augusta, Spieth name-checked the Australian Open to a global audience as having helped him learn how to close out a tournament.

Tiger Woods also told media he believed Spieth winning in Australia was the key for him to turn second in the 2014 Masters into a composed wire-to-wire victory this week.

This was all music to the ears of Australian golf bosses yesterday, who are currently in talks with marquee players about the 2015 tournament, again to be held at The Australian Golf Club in November.

“That’s a great thing for us, and for players of that calibre to be talking about the Australian Open is really something for the Championship,” Australian Open tournament director Trevor Herden said on Tuesday.

Spieth is committed to defending his title — although a contract hasn’t yet been signed — and it’s understood Phil Mickleson is a chance to sign on.

But where in the past Golf Australia  has had to pay big bucks to a big star to forego holiday time and bring the crowds in, McIlroy and Spieth’s recent deeds have started to see a shift.

“Over the last two years there has been a lot more interest from player managers and international players about the Australian Open and wanting to come down and play it,” Herden said.

“To me that says the world is looking at it, it’s producing good results for international players coming down, including going on to win a Major. The event is getting stronger and stronger, it has great momentum.

“Even today there has been interest from player managers overseas wanting to know what is going on with the Australian Open: Who have we got? Are we interested in A, B or C?”

The potential for the Australian Open is now to attract not just one or two stars, but a group of top 20 players keen to step up and win big tournaments. Players such as Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose could try to follow the McIlroy and Spieth route to success.

The dual challenge of playing in Australia is beating both the field and a tough course. Spieth tamed strong winds at The Australian with similar smarts to those seen in his game at Augusta.

“These players play all over the world, and there’s a lot of courses that they go to where people try to trick up courses that aren’t strong,” Herden said.

“If we talk about The Australian, it’s a very, very strong golf course … and it has a lot of teeth already. We don’t have to trick it up. Combined with the November winds, players get a bit of everything through the week. They get the nor’-easter and sou’-easters, it’s a good test all around.”

As stated by Spieth and McIlroy, the prestige of winning the Australian Open is not to be sneezed at in world golf.

Outside the Majors, only the Canadian Open (96) has an honour roll of champions boasting more Major wins, but the Australian Open (74) amazingly only had nine different winners between 1958 and 1979. In a fabled era, Gary Player won it seven times and Jack Nicklaus six.

Those “fifth major” days are long gone but following the names of the world’s top two players, Spieth and McIlroy, on the Stonehaven Cup — and possibly on a Major trophy, too — will have its own significant appeal for a new generation.

Oiginally appeared in The Daily Telegraph: