Date: November 24, 2015
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Spieth puts Open field in different class

Just prior to the 1981 Australian Open at Victoria Peter Thomson wrote a piece for the Melbourne Age bemoaning the lack of local success in the events leading to the national championship.

Eamonn Darcy had won in Adelaide, British Open champion Bill Rogers dominated the New South Wales Open, Severiano Ballesteros took the PGA championship at Royal Melbourne and Gary Player won up on the Gold Coast.

Greg Norman, an ever-present challenger, was annoyed at Thomson’s negative slant on the state of the game and his criticism of the locals but clearly the five-times Open champion had a point. Surely with all the local knowledge, one of ours could have beaten the invaders?

The tour is much different now. There are fewer events and it is increasingly more difficult to attract the biggest names. The European Tour has found venues (and big money) with November sunshine and the United State s PGA Tour begins its new season, oddly and with little regard for the consequence to us, well before Christmas.

Last week in Melbourne was the first of the big events and Peter Senior was the champion. He is a remarkable player but at 56, shouldn’t the younger players be well more than capable of cleaning him up? One wonders what Thomson made of it all, but Huntingdale is a course perfectly suited to Senior’s game. It required no great power to conquer and those he left behind could do worse than study Senior’s ability to win big events as well as admiring his insatiable appetite for playing the game. Few men anywhere in the world have played more holes of golf than Senior since his debut at the end of 1978.

This week in Sydney is a different class to the field at Huntingdale. Jordan Speith is defending and clearly he is one of the best three players in the game. The ranking order Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy assume at the end of any given week is inconsequential and it is far from clear which one will have the best time of it next season.

The Texan cleaned them all up, including McIlroy, a year ago with a Sunday 63 and since he has won at Augusta and at the U.S Open.

Unlike Day and McIlroy his brilliance is not easily explained away. The other two are obviously awesome hitters but the American has matched it with them by playing his own game effectively, sensibly and with the aid of a putter that, as Gary Player once said of his own blade, "has killed more men than polio.’'

Of course Adam Scott should have easily won last week but for an inexplicable Saturday when one of the game’s best drivers send his ball all over the lot at Huntingdale. For the Scott swing a bad day of ball striking is an aberration and it’s hard to imagine him messing up a similar chance at The Australian.

More impressive than the local pros this past month has been the group of impressive young amateurs. Curtis Luck was second in the West Australian Open, Ben Eccles won the NSW Open and Bryson DeChambeau was second at Huntingdale.

DeChambeau is particularly interesting, playing as he does with a set where the three iron the same length as the wedge. It seems a not unreasonable theory in a game where theories are only limited by imagination and anyone who has played golf knows how it spawns a fertile imagination. Much of it of course is unhelpful.

The American was always just a little too far behind on the back nine at Huntingdale but his play was awfully impressive and from the 14th tee to the end he didn’t miss a shot.

He will be very familiar with the test this week as The Australian, designed by his countryman and six time Australian champion, Jack Nicklaus, is more than reminiscent in look and style to the courses of his homeland.

The man who has resurrected the Ben Hogan cap may not win but he is well worth observation and it’s almost more fun watching them before they are famous than when they are.