Date: February 24, 2016
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Eye-catching golf across the nation

It’s hardly a secret state governments are big sponsors of Australian professional golf and the predictable result is each state, with the exception of Tasmania, has a big event.

Sydney has the Men’s Open, Queensland the PGA, The Masters has been in Melbourne for thirty-seven years, and this week the European Tour comes to Perth and the Perth International. First-class golf, after too long an absence, went back to Adelaide last week for the Women’s Open.

The crowds at The Australian were what you’d expect for a national Open with Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott in the field. If we can’t manage a great Open in the middle of Sydney with a good field the future of big golf is in trouble.

The Women’s Open last summer at Royal Melbourne was, in contrast, a poorly attended event. On the best course in the country Lydia Ko put on a 72-hole clinic but going down the 15th fairway on Saturday afternoon her gallery barely topped a hundred people. You could sugarcoat it but that was very poor given the brilliance of Ko’s golf that week. It never ceases to amaze me how so many people can play golf yet seemingly have so little interest in the game they can’t be bothered to drive twenty minutes to watch the best player in the world.

The championship moved to Adelaide and by any measure the field was poorer than the one in Melbourne. Only four of the top twenty ranked women made the long flight from America and one could be excused for thinking the tournament might slip even lower than what we had seen in Melbourne.

The complete opposite happened. South Australian golf fans, for too long starved of the chance to watch good players, turned up in numbers exceeding the expectations of all. It felt like a proper tournament with players teeing off ten and fifteen groups ahead of the leaders still playing in front of appreciative galleries.

Whilst so many of the best players absented themselves there was some fine players worthy of close observation. Ko is a brilliant player, smart, composed, seemingly carefree and always in with a winning chance.

Karrie Webb is a marvel still playing fine golf with a method as enduring as honey and despite some excellent tee to green play on Sunday she could barely make a putt. Hana Jang, one of the best Koreans, was a couple behind on Sunday morning and having won the previous event she seemed a likely winner. She didn’t win but there will be more chances for Jang this season.

Eighteen year-old Canadian star Brooke Henderson played with Su Oh on Sunday and we (I caddied for Oh) had a chance to watch one of the very best teenagers in the game. There is much of the young Sergio Garcia in her swing with the club lagging low and far behind her on the downswing. It’s powerful, unusual, all her own and she can really hit some shots. She shot an easy 67 on Sunday to slip into the top ten and she and Ko will have many a battle in the next decade.

Another other eye-catching event was the Victorian Open at 13th Beach in Barwon Heads. Overtaken by The Masters in the mid-1980s as the premier annual event in Melbourne the Open had survived only because the local golf association cared enough about the trophy to ensure a name was engraved on its base every year.

Four years ago it moved to a golf-starved market, found a 36-hole course allowing for full fields of men and women and the locals turned up to watch a unique tournament where they get two for the price of one.

Just as the galleries did in Adelaide last week the people gave the tournament life. Webb turned up, her presence was appreciated and it added further legitimacy to a tournament. Spectators were allowed to walk the fairways instead of trudging through the rough and behind ropes. Golf is a better game when it is watched from behind and there should be consideration given to going back to what we had in the 1960s and early 1970s when spectators had a much better view of the game.