On paper, it was clearly one of the most interesting and attractive groupings on day one of this ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Throw together two members of the world’s top-ten and the women who is perhaps Australia’s greatest-ever golfer and you have the makings of a pretty good spectacle.
And they didn’t let us down.
Making as many as 17 birdies between them, all three broke 70. British Open champion Georgia Hall shot 69; defending champion Jin Young Ko got round in 68; and 44-year old Karrie Webb performed like the legend she is en route to 67.
As ever though, those numbers cannot begin to tell the whole story of a fascinating morning on the west course at The Grange. All three women compiled their scores in markedly different ways, a tribute to their collective ability to really play golf, as well as the constantly probing questions asked by 18-holes that typify all that is good and great about the game in Australia.
Hall summed it up perfectly. Just after making the most of a good break on the 9th hole – her 18th – where her approach kicked in off the right bunker to maybe ten-feet from the cup, the 22-year old Englishwoman uttered a simple but eloquent tribute to the course’s wonderfully strategic architecture.
“A lot of holes look wide, but they don’t play wide,” she said.
Indeed, the West course is one that more often calls for positioning rather than brute force, albeit none of the three players looked to be holding back off the tee. What was most instructive, however, was watching each of them figure things out when shots finished in less than ideal spots. Hall, who struggled a little more than her companions in that regard, was especially dextrous. The owner of an exceptional touch, she displayed more than once an uncommon ability from sand.
Hall has also proved herself to be something of a talisman (woman) for Webb. Last week at the Vic Open, the Australian shot a 65 in her young friend’s company, a round she followed with a disastrous 82. Normal service has been resumed though. While her shots may lack a little of the “zing” and penetration of old, Webb’s full-swing action has retained the oily rhythm and timing that has been perhaps the defining characteristic of her storied career. Add in the sort of canny guile that comes only with vast experience, and any shortcomings are well disguised. Six birdies dotted her card, easily outnumbering a lone bogey at the par-4 6th.
“I'm really pleased,” said Webb, a five-time winner of this event. “I got off to a really great start early this morning. I hit some good shots and saw some putts go in, so I felt really comfortable. Things did get a little scratchy through the middle of the round, but I hung in there. And the birdie at the 8th, my second last hole, was a nice way to finish. I made the most of the opportunities I had.”
As for Ko, the message adorning her golf bag – “love God, love People” – perfectly sums up her happy disposition on the course. A beautiful ball-striker, it is easy to see why and how she has become one of the premier players on the LPGA Tour. Like Webb, she made six birdies, comfortably outweighing the two shots she dropped on the par-4 7th and the short 12th. And she too paid a fulsome tribute to the challenge she had just negotiated with such dexterity.
“Thinking course,” she said in her faltering English. “I had some loose shots on the back nine. But still good – under par. I’m happy.”
With that, Ko was off for what she called a “power nap.” A relaxing notion that was definitely not on Hall’s agenda. Although pleased to have holed some stout par-putts that “kept my round going,” she was unhappy with the tempo of her stroke on left-to-right breakers. So a trip to the practice green was in her near future. But not right away. Adhering to the message tattooed to the inside of her right wrist – “Deep Breath” – Hall was fighting her natural instinct to do things immediately.
“I tend to do everything too quickly,” she admits. “I make decisions without thinking things through. If I want something I want it that minute. On the course, the tattoo is there to remind me to take my time and not rush. I can sometimes get ahead of myself.”
Not too often though, given her string of strong performances over the past 12 months. Still, the wry smile on the face of her caddie/boyfriend Harry was confirmation enough. Sometimes it seems, Georgia does have to miss her mid-round train.