Bruce Crampton was one of a quartet of top Australian players in the 1960s and early 1970s. He, along with Bruce Devlin, Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle, carried the hopes of the country as they played around the world, Devlin and Crampton in the United States, Nagle and Thomson in Europe, Asia and at home.
Four times Crampton was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in major championships including at Augusta and Pebble Beach in 1972 but by the mid-70s as he approached his 40th birthday he was lamenting the state of his game and it’s preparedness to compete ‘with all these young guys who hit it so much further’.
Different players lose their games, or the belief in their games, at different times and a 40th birthday seems to be as good a time as any.
The third round leader at Royal Sydney, Geoff Ogilvy is forty in the middle of next year and after a couple of miserable seasons in America the Crampton ‘am I too old for all this’ question must have crossed his mind.
By forty many of your contemporaries have lost their cards. Twenty–two year olds like Brooks Koepka come out having grown up as kids watching Tiger Woods and drive the ball unimaginable distances.
In Ogilvy’s case his game slipped but if you watched him it was for no apparent reason. Last year at The Australian he admitted to playing his ‘most frustrating week ever’ as he hit the ball as well as I’ve ever seen him but the putter didn’t deserve to make it out the gate in two pieces. The previous year he had hit the ball poorly and by Sunday he had very little interest in the proceedings. Either way he had gone from being the third ranked player in the world at his best to somewhere outside the top 200.
This season he takes his one ‘get out of jail free card’ in America by using his career money list exemption allowing him to play the last part of this year and all of next season. If he were to miss the top 125 again the only resort is to plead for sponsors invitations and no one wants to be at the mercy of tournament directors for a start each week.
A few weeks ago he was 4th in Las Vegas and he made a big pile of money, probably a quarter of what he needs to in order to keep his card.
For anyone who watched him play this third day at Royal Sydney the pessimism seems silly. He was around in 64, made by beginning with two birdies and then saving pars after marginally errant shots at the next two holes. From there it was a ball-striking clinic with the final two birdies, coming after a run of pars from the turn, with a two putt at the par 5 16th and a wedge to a foot at the last.
The final day will be a proper test for the leader. Winning the Australian Open isn’t going to change his career but for him it’s still the ‘5th most important tournament we play all year – behind the majors.’
Two behind Ogilvy are Jordan Spieth, Ryan Fox and Aaron Baddeley and all are dangerous players. Fox drives as far as anyone who isn’t in the world-long-driving championship and Speith is the best scorer in the game. Ogilvy himself summed it up perfectly earlier in the week when he said of the Texan, ‘he always seems to sign for one or two less than you think he might have shot.’
Baddeley was awful on Thursday; looking a shadow of the player he was when he won here in 1999. He came back in 31 on Friday when missing the cut was an option and 67 today was a continuation of the amazing turn-around from the opening day. His putter is as dangerous as anyone’s in the game and if he can keep the long stuff nice he has a real opportunity.
Can it really have been seventeen years since he and Ogilvy teed off together on Thursday morning in 1999 with wild dreams and hopes for their futures?
Golf has made them both wealthy young men but on Sunday they will be out there grinding and trying to prove to themselves, as much as anybody else, they still have relevance and a place at the top of the game.