John Huggan is a leading Scottish golf journalist whose extensive knowledge and insight into the game contribute to a distinctive and highly acclaimed writing style. Over the next week of the MFS Australian Open, John will be contributing to our website as a guest columnist. Check in daily for John s insightful columns. From a distance, which is inevitably the spot from which most of the world s golf fans view Australia, its courses and its players, the fact that the MFS Australian Open is not currently one of the game s premier events is a bit of a mystery. That this historic event should be up there, no more than half a notch below the four major championships seems a no-brainer; almost everything required of a top-level tournament is in place. It has history, a roll call of great champions and, in this modern era, the strongest and largest group of world-class golfers Australia has ever produced. This, after all, is a championship that is more than a century old, one that has been won by a veritable who s-who of golf since it was first played at the Australian Club way back in 1904. Quite apart from homegrown champions such as Greg Norman, Steve Elkington, Peter Thomson, Kel Nagle and David Graham major winners all – the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Watson, Bill Rogers, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Locke have each hoisted the Stonehaven Trophy skywards. Between them, those seven visitors won a breathtaking 48 Grand Slam titles. Then there are the venues at the disposal of the Aussie Open. A rota that contains great tracks like Royal Melbourne, Royal Adelaide, Kinston Heath, Metropolitan, The Australian and this year s revamped Royal Sydney compares favourably with even the famed collection of windswept and historic links on which the British Open is held. Throw in Australia s renowned propensity for sunshine and the prospect of a great event is enhanced even further. Finally, add in the current mix of extraordinary talent Australia has produced in the first decade of the 21st century and this week s event is surely one to savour. Only the United States (16) presently has more representatives in the world s top-50 than Australia s six: Adam Scott (4th), Geoff Ogilvy (10th), Stuart Appleby (26th), Rod Pampling (28th), Nick O Hern (34th) and Robert Allenby (42nd). And only the Americans (42) and the English (10) outnumber the nine Aussies in the leading 100 players on the planet. No fewer than 24 Australians teed up in this year s British Open at Hoylake. Those are extraordinary statistics for a country boasting a population of only 20 million souls. The numbers do not lie either. Three Aussies Scott, Ogilvy and Appleby finished in the top-ten money winners on the PGA Tour this past year. Between them, those three men won five events in the land of Uncle Sam, the highlight, of course, Ogilvy s memorable victory in the US Open at Winged Foot, a triumph that broke his compatriot s 11-year drought in golf’s four most important events. Ogilvy was hardly alone though. In all, six Australians won eight times on the world s toughest and most demanding circuit during 2006. It is little wonder that newly-appointed executive chairman of the Australian Opens Paul McNamee is promoting this MFS Australian Open as nothing more than a celebration of Australian golfers. I honestly believe that this group of golfers is the best in the history of Australian golf, he says. And he is correct; there is much to be proud of. So what s missing? Not much, other than a sprinkling of big-name players from overseas. But they, if McNamee is to be believed (and, as the man who oversaw a doubling of prize money during his tenure as chief executive of the Australian Open Tennis Championship, why shouldn t he be?) will come in time. We need to increase prize money by 20 percent every year, otherwise we are not serious, he adds. We will focus on Australians this year and pick up internationals along the way. Which is as it should be. The Australian Open, a historic event played on great courses in brilliant weather and with a star-studded field, deserves nothing less than the very best of everything.
Author: John Huggan