Date: November 28, 2017
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Open rewards could even be more

For Jonas Blixt, or Matt Jones or Cameron Smith or Jason Day winning the 2017 Australian Open would have been a significant achievement. It wouldn’t have changed their lives because they are all wealthy young men and all have had success of varying, but high, levels in the United States. It does, though, look pretty nice on the CV to have your name alongside Norman Von Nida, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and Jordan Spieth.

They were the quartet stacked up behind Cameron Davis, a Sydney kid who only a couple of years ago won the Australian Amateur. Only the equally rake-thin Bruce Devlin, in 1959 and 1960, won the double in quicker time.

Winning the Open comes with some rewards. The money one assumes is more than useful for a twenty-two-year-old who has been a pro barely a year.

He, along with Jones and Blixt, earnt a spot in the Open Championship at Carnoustie and Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in the midst of the American summer. A high finish on the local money list too assures a few starts on the big World Golf Championships where there are no cuts and a $40,000 guarantee.

It’s nice cash, no doubt, and a fantastic opportunity to measure your progress against the best players in the world.

What would be even more than useful than all the attendant benefits would be the same reward as the one guaranteed the winner of this week's Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast. The PGA champion earns a European Tour card and only a few weeks ago not one of the Australian hopefuls who flew to Spain for the school and the hope of gainful employment next season advanced.

It’s not easy, but Davis this week suggested with his 63 to start and 64 to finish he is more than capable of playing successfully overseas.

Many have suggested the future of the Australian Open is as a part of the European Tour and for those in the Davis boat, a European exemption would be a much greater reward than all the money or a start in The Open Championship. The last player to really use an Open exemption earned from an Australian Open to advance his career was Ian Baker-Finch all the way back in 1984. It’s a nice reward, but parlaying it into something more than just a start in The Open is the trick.

The shock of the final round was Jason Day who was set to walk away with the trophy after an opening three on the toughest starting hole in the country. His playing partner Lucas Herbert matched him at the first but whilst he is a young and talented golfer with a wide arsenal of shots there is a looseness about his play suggesting beating a player of Day’s class and presence was unlikely.

Herbert found himself two ahead of the pack after seven holes of the front nine but a messy 40 coming home was four shots too many. Having only to par the back nine to win the Open may sound easy and on Thursday it’d be nothing to write home about, but winning big championships is rarely easy. Coming from the pack as Davis did involves a different pressure and much less scrutiny.

Day was surprisingly poor given his elevated stature in the game. "When he plays his best," said Geoff Ogilvy in his thoughtful and wide-ranging press conference at the start of the week, "he is the best player in the world."

Day made an ugly six at the ninth, then bogeyed the 11th and 13th to fall to four over and only an eagle at the 14th gave his card the look of some respectability. After 66, 68 and 69, though, it was disappointing golf from our leading player and we can only hope he is back at The Lakes next year to make amends.

The story, though, was Davis’ great round on a course still considered to be one of the three or four toughest in the country. It’s not what it was because the combination of ball and driver has rendered formerly long and feared holes short and relatively defenseless, but it still asks for a wide variety of skills. The wind, the main protector now of our best championship courses, never really blew this week and it makes these low rounds possible.

Rod Pampling did a 61 a few years ago on Sunday and Spieth finished in 63 when he won in 2014. Now Davis has done 64, a brilliant round in any circumstance, and etched his name on the most significant trophy in the country.