It’s often said that the hardest place from which to win a golf tournament is the lead –and South Australia’s greatest ever golfer Jane Crafter provided the proof in the 1997 Women’s Australian Open at Yarra Yarra in Melbourne, Victoria.
Back then, the tournament was played at the end of the LPGA and LET seasons in November. Crafter was coming off a moderate season in the US with a best finish of tied for fourth and total prizemoney of $96,885 from 22 tournaments, compared to $147,159 from three fewer tournaments the year before.
In her 17th year as a professional, she was going through a transitional period when the actual playing of golf was no longer the only thing in her golfing world.
Inspired by her late father Brian, a respected coach and commentator, Crafter had started preparing for life after the Tour and that year had worked her way into the commentary box for ESPN and NBC.
Almost two decades on, her television career continues, her credentials as an expert of the game franked in no small measure by her triumph under pressure in the ’97 Women’s Australian Open.
After a 16-year hiatus, the Open was in the fourth year of its second coming. Young Swede Annika Sorenstam had won the tournament’s resumption at Royal Adelaide in 1994 before a switch to Yarra Yarra in Melbourne’s acclaimed Sandbelt, where another Swede, Liselotte Neumann, had won in
1995 and Scotland’s Catriona Matthew announced herself on the world stage with her maiden
victory in 1996. Neumann and Matthew were back, along with another former winner, Australia’s trailblazer Jan Stephenson. But the main drawcard was the exciting 22-year-old Karrie Webb whose second season on the LPGA Tour had yielded three wins, including her second British Open.
But although she rallied to finish fifth, Webb was never in the hunt after an opening round oneover- par 74 left her nine shots behind Crafter, whose eight-under-par 65 was a course record.
Crafter led by two shots on day one and a one under 72 in wet and difficult conditions on day two was enough to extend the advantage to six shots. After another 72 on the Saturday she led South Korean Soo-Yun Kang by three shots – but while that was also her winning margin, the final round was no walk in the park.
The 21-year-old Kang, whose style and dress sense led to her nickname back home as “the fashion model of the fairways”, produced some immaculate wedge play to birdie four holes in a row and standing on the 11th tee, she was suddenly one in front of Crafter. But if Kang then found the task of leading on the back nine difficult, so was losing the lead a circuit breaker for Crafter’s conservative play. She immediately birdied the 11th with
Kang bogeying for a two shot swing. From there, the Australian was able to consolidate for a comfortable threeshot win over countrywoman Joanne Mills with the faltering Kang a shot further back.
The opening round eight-under was Crafter’s best score of her professional career. Winner of the New Zealand and Belgium Amateur Championships and with a string of local achievements, she turned pro in 1980, won the JCPenney Classic and Phar-Mor Tournament in the US and two Australian Ladies Masters.
The win in her national Open was her last on the main tours although she did combine with Betsy King to win the Fry’s Desert Golf Classic on the US Legends Tour in 2013. And a legend of Australian golf she truly is. The only golfer in South Australia’s Sporting Hall of Fame, she has made her contribution across the amateur and professional spectrum as well as the broadcast media, as a consultant to her brother Neil’s golf course design business, and in junior development where she is the ambassador for Junior Golf SA. Her name sits comfortably with Webb and Stephenson as the only Australian winners of the Women’s Australian Open.