Date: November 20, 2016
Author: John Huggan

OPEN SPOTS: Aussie trio Birkdale bound


Jordan Spieth’s extra-holes victory at the 101st Emirates Australian Open will long be remembered as one of the most exciting, dramatic and hotly contested in the event’s long and distinguished history. But, while taking possession of the Stonehaven Cup and the first-place cheque for $225,000 would have been more than nice for joint runners-up Ashley Hall and Cameron Smith, the Aussies can at least take solace in a tasty little consolation prize. Along with compatriot Aaron Baddeley, the pair each secured one of the three exempt spots on offer for next year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Baddeley claimed his spot in the game’s oldest and most important championship by the narrowest of margins. One of five players tied for fourth place, the two-time Australian open champion broke the tie by dint of his higher position on the world rankings. Baddeley arrived in Sydney as the 149th best golfer on the planet, nine places better than New Zealander Ryan Fox, 17 ahead of Rod Pampling, 83 clear of Geoff Ogilvy and 173 beyond Jason Scrivener.

For Hall, the exciting prospect of teeing-up for a second time in the game’s oldest and most important championship (he missed the cut at Royal Lytham in 2012) is a far cry from the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, where he was competing only two months ago. The 33-year old Melburnian passed that test successfully, but failed at the second stage. Which turned out to be not half as bad as first thought. Had Hall made it through to the third and final school, he would have been playing in Spain rather than Sydney over the past few days.

"It’s great,” he said. “I love Birkdale. I played there as an amateur in 2005, so it will be nothing new to me. And I played the course again during the 2012 Open. It’s going to be fun. The Open is one of my favourite tournaments, so knowing I’m in this far out, is kind of nice. I love links golf. I love the way they play and it’s just a different way of playing golf. Much like Australian golf, you can bounce the ball around a little bit, so I don't think it’s any secret why Aussies have done pretty good in the past at the Open.”

Smith, whose play-off loss prevented him from completing what would be something of a “triple crown” of Australian golf, was just as excited at the prospect of what will be his Open debut.

“It’s going to be awesome,” said the 2011 Aussie Boys champion and 2013 Aussie Amateur champion, a huge smile on his face. “I actually played with the R&A Deputy Championship Committee Chairman, Peter Cowell earlier this week. I guess that was fate or kind of an omen. It’s the only major I haven’t played in yet, so I’m keen to get over there.That’s the one with all the history. I’d love to go over there and see what I can do.”