Date: February 12, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Champions return to Royal Canberra

My old mate and golfing writing colleague Jim Webster became quite lyrical the week big-time golf first came to Royal Canberra and its Westbourne Woods layout back in October 1970, writing of the day The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse came to town in his lead paragraph for The Sydney Morning Herald. Given that the movie was about a killing spree it was perhaps a touch over the top to compare Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd, with Tony Jacklin thrown in for good measure, to the aforesaid horsemen but, what the hell, it was damn good read. Palmer, of course, was The King. He won seven majors between 1958 and 1964 and even though his career was in decline he was still a major drawcard. There was an aura about him. I wrote in The Age: No popular athlete I have ever met looked more right that Palmer the strength of the man can be seen simply in his hands and he seems to have a spark that radiates to those around him. Download the official ISPS HANDA Women&aposs Australian Open app for iPhone today Jacklin was the 1969 British Open champion and a few months before coming to Canberra for the $25,000 Dunlop International had won the US Open. Trevino had won just one of his six career majors the 1968 US Open while Player had won five of his nine majors. And, Floyd? He d won the first of four majors the PGA Championship just a year earlier. Yes, it was quite an array of talent here to take on our local players like five-time British Open Champion Peter Thomson, Centenary British Open winner Kel Nagle and Bruce Devlin who virtually called Royal Canberra home as he was from Goulburn just up the Hume Highway north towards Sydney. Royal Canberra – and the Federal Capital was justifiably excited. Melbourne and Sydney always hosted the big events, save for the open championship that, in those days, rotated around the six state capital cities. The 1969 Australian PGA championship was played at RC and won by Devlin but the field was vastly inferior to that of a year later, as was the 1967 Dunlop tournament also played at RC that was won by Bob Stanton. That same excitement awaits us this week with many of the world s best players here for the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and you can bet some of the old codgers, like myself, will watch and reminisce of the day when the several of the world s best were here in 1970. We have 11 players in the top 30 of the Rolex world rankings Yani Tseng (1), Stacy Lewis (3), So-Yeon Ryu (7), Jiyai Shin (8), Karrie Webb (12), Catriona Matthew (14), Brittany Lincicome (18), Angela Stanford (19), Lexie Thompson (23), Anna Nordqvist (28) and Brittany Lang (29). There are nine major champions Tseng, Lewis, Ryu, Shin, Webb, Matthew, Eun-Hee Ji, Laura Davies and Sophie Gustafson. Then there s the curiosity value of Michelle Wie and Cheyenne Woods, niece of a chap named Eldrick but more commonly known as Tiger. Woods wears the inevitable questions of her uncle with gracious smile. She knows her pedigree demands those questions but surely lives with a belief that those probes from the media will be about her golf, not the guy who has 14 major championships thus far. Join in the conversation via our social hub Wie is making her first visit to Australia, and will draw a share of the gallery but, to be brutally honest, her reputation far exceeds her success as a golfer so far. It’s a simple test, but a telling one to Google the words Michelle Wie and you ll come up with around 3.4 million results. Then type Yani Tseng, and it s 912,000 results. Tseng is world No 1; Wie is No 63. Tseng has 15 LPGA wins, five majors and career earnings on the LPGA Tour of just under $US9 million; Wie has two LPGA victories and earnings of $US2.6 million. The case for the prosecution rests. Wie turned professional at the age of 16 and the corporate sponsors flocked to her side but she made her name by persisting to ask for, and receive, invites to men’s tournaments four on the PGA Tour, a couple of each of the European and Japan Tour. She made just one cut. But, enough of that. She is now 23, and maybe older and wiser when it comes to attempting to match it with the blokes. Goodness, not even the great Annika Sorenstam could. So, let s head back to the 1970 Dunlop International for a moment. Player won his first ever professional tournament in Australia the old Ampol tournament at Melbourne s Yarra Yarra layout in 1956 and kept returning just about every other year under an agreement with the Dunlop/Slazenger company that guaranteed two of its three international players who had equipment deals with the company Palmer, Player and Jack Nicklaus would play in this country every year through the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s. The little South African was always somewhat of a dramatist and never short of a quote. He said of Royal Canberra: This is the most beautiful course in Australia. Some might say well, actually they have in the 75th anniversary book of the Royal Canberra GC published in 2001 he (Player) was a little influenced by his win. Yes, Player claimed victory after winning the Australian Open at Kingston Heath a sixth time a week earlier. Palmer likened Royal Canberra to Augusta National, home of The Masters, and those who ve been to Augusta will tell you the fragrance of the pine trees is exactly the same. In the lead-up to the tournament, we saw Palmer and Jacklin lose $80 each in a grudge match in practice to Player and Floyd, who won 2-1, in the fourball contest. Trevino played behind them and couldn’t help himself with a quip: Hey, what a four I ve walked into here. A song writer (Jacklin), a guy with a bad back problem (Palmer), the greatest player in the world (Player), and a bloke who chases all the women (Floyd). The reference to Player was a quote from the South African earlier in the week and we must says he claims he was misquoted that he said he was the third greatest player in the world. Said Player: I wouldn t even say I m the 20th best player in the world that is for other people to judge. I am a humble man and I never said I was the third greatest player in the world. All that though is history. This week more history will be written at Royal Canberra when the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open is being played for the first time by surely the finest women’s field ever assembled in this country with Jessica Korda defending the title she won at Royal Melbourne last year.