LIVE SCORES: www.golf.org.au/ausopen
Curtis Luck, my boss this week, played on Thursday with Greg Chalmers, twice a winner of the Australian Open and Robert Allenby, the champion in 1994 at Royal Sydney.
Ironically Allenby is probably better known for an Open he didn’t win.
Twenty-six years ago he came to the final hole at Royal Melbourne with a chance and hit a staggeringly brilliant five iron to three feet and tapped in to set a pretty stern task for Wayne Riley playing a few groups behind. Riley made three long putts from the 16th including an outrageous forty-five footer up the tier at the last to win by one.
Clearly here was a kid who was going to be a star, win big events and, we assumed, major championships.
He did win many times and all around the world and he accumulated over $27 million American dollars on the PGA Tour. But, given how well he hit the ball from tee to green his major championship record was spotty at best (five top 10s in 64 starts) and we all wondered why.
Like it or not the pressure is greater in the big championships and Jack Nicklaus always thought them easier to win because the others were more likely to succumb to the stresses of playing for a place in history.
Robert has had a pretty miserable time of the golf these last few years and his status on the American Tour allows for a few starts but no more. Age eventually gets them all and for the majority it’s the years past 40, which seem to be the most problematic even for the better players. That Phil Mickelson still plays so well is testament to his skills and a long swing sure to endure past the abbreviated versions.
Perhaps it’s the body not being able to do what it once did. Clearly Tiger Woods at 40 is a much different athlete than the kid who came to the Australian to play the 1996 Australian Open. Roger Federer, in contrast, doesn’t look a whole lot different now than he did fifteen years ago.
Sam Snead, in stark contrast, was able, extraordinarily, to finish 4th, 9th and 3rd in the US PGA championship the three years from his 60th birthday.
Most argue the title of the greatest player is between Woods and Jack Nicklaus but surely Snead is a part of the conversation. Still no one has won more PGA Tour events.
Robert still swings well. It was never a particularly pretty swing and it was his own and it worked well enough to see him respected as one of the premier ball strikers of his generation.
Tournament golf will however wear you out. Putting tournament pressure on the swing, the driver, the chipping and the putting is likely to open up cracks as one critical part of game eventually gives out. For Ian Baker-Finch it was the driver and no matter how well he putted he couldn’t make up for the destructive shots from the tee. Snead himself survived by reinventing his putting method after he started yipping and others lose it with the chipping. The chipping yips and the driver yips are just as destructive as those with the putter and are much underreported. Brett Ogle, the man Allenby beat in 1994 is long gone from competitive golf, himself a victim of the heebie-jeebies with the little wedges.
Allenby pulled an iron into our second hole on Thursday morning and careered off the left bank, ran all the way across the green and finished a full twenty meters off the right side of the target.
He had a fluffy lie and it was a chip shot all day. Curtis would have easily flipped a lob wedge up to a few feet but Allenby took the putter and did all he was going to do and got it to about fifteen feet. He made the putt for the par but it was a window into a man no longer confident with the chipping. It’s a big hole to cover and the torturous inevitability of golf is the weaknesses rear their ugliness at wildly inappropriate times. For Baker-Finch it was famously off the opening tee at St Andrews in the 1995 Open Championship. For Snead it was a 30 inch putt on the 18th green of the playoff for the 1949 US Open.
Allenby got to our 15th hole (the 6th) and after pushing a three wood into the woodchips, he punched an iron out into the bunker and hit a terrific shot to three feet. From there he missed with a very tentative stroke and at the next a wild block from the tee found a good lie on the mounds separating the 7th from the 8th but pitching a wedge across the pond by the green came up a meter short and trickled back into the water. The drop left him a Texas wedge from off the edge of the green and an easy up and in but he wacked way past and missed coming back. A 71 was turned into 74 in no time and they were mistakes a nineteen-year-old Allenby would never have made.
The Senior Tour probably can’t come quick enough.
LIVE SCORES: www.golf.org.au/ausopen