There is an early-week sense of negativity about this week’s #AusOpenGolf but when Patrick Smith, the best sports writer in the country, comes out of retirement for a week to report on the play you know things can’t be all bad.
The much-discussed failure to report for duty of our three best players is especially disappointing in the year we lost our greatest-ever player, Peter Thomson.
The champion three times, in 1951, 1968 and 1972, Thomson was an unstinting supporter of the local tour. He understood his support, and that of his great friend, Kel Nagle, was necessary for the local tour to both grow and become the vehicle for young Australians to set their path toward the European and American tours. Nor did the presence of either require a fee.
Either way the ‘big three’ are not here but joining us is another member of the clan, a genius with the wedge from Brisbane.
Cameron Smith won the Australian Amateur in 2012 beating Geoff Drakeford who was both more powerful (much more) and more impressive except when it mattered. On the back nine of that final match, Smith relentlessly found fairways and greens while the longer driver found neither with any regularity.
Still, he wasn’t an obvious star but watching his play since he has proved to be very good at putting in a world-class performance when he needs to. A fourth place in the 2015 US Open secured his employment in America and a tie for fifth at Augusta this year was equally impressive.
The Lakes is a course offering little encouragement to the longest hitters. Indeed it may be harder and certainly more dangerous because it offers more temptation at holes like the par 5, 11th winding its way around a huge lake. Once the original water supply for early Sydney residents, the long second shot is a formidable carry.
Others will perhaps try and drive the controversial short 13th. And at the penultimate hole water runs alongside the entirety of the long second shot. Some will miss left but more will miss to the right for fear of missing left. Either way Smith will find a course right up his alley this week.
More familiar to us from the week-to-week coverage of the PGA Tour, the visiting American stars, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley are perhaps less romantic than their compatriots of generations past.
In Thomson’s time men like Gene Littler, Dave Stockton, Dave Hill and J.C Snead would come to play and crowds flocked to see them because their talents were things we could only read about. The present-day quartet is no lesser players and they ought to put on a show worthy of observation.
Kuchar won last week in Mexico and it’s a long flight from there but 55 years ago Gary Player won in Melbourne after arriving on Thursday morning from Paris via New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Auckland and Sydney. The World Cup had been delayed a day for fog in Paris, but despite the wearying flight and having to play with a brand new set of clubs Player won by seven shots.
So long ago was it that Patrick Smith was still in primary school English class. Obviously he was paying attention.