Date: December 05, 2012
Author: Mike Clayton /

The 5th major debate rolls on

There comes a time when golfers need to be dissuaded from the myth that the Australian Open was once the 5th Major championship in golf. It is important because golfers are now liable, if they read certain press reports, to see the national Open as a pale imitation of what it was in the 1960s and 1970s. That is the era most likely pointed to by critics determined to show what we have lost. Jack Nicklaus won the Open in 1971 at the Royal Hobart course (the one time the Open went to Tasmania) course, beating a field that included Americans Dave Hill and Dave Stockton and the brilliant Australians Bruce Crampton and Peter Thomson. Gary Player the defending champion was absent but the supporting cast included a future star David Graham who only three years earlier had resigned bankrupt from a Tasmanian club professionals job. Nicklaus won as expected and in the post championship press conference stated that he considered the Australian Open golf’s 5th major. Was it something he said for the edification of the local media or was he serious? The Canadian Open that year won by Lee Trevino who sandwiched it between a playoff win over Nicklaus in the U.S Open and the British Open was an equally prestigious national Open with a U.S Tour field. Every event certainly every event that Nicklaus played on the American tour had an infinitely better field that the Australian Open. What the Open had was the ability to attract Nicklaus, Player and Arnold Palmer, the three biggest names in the game, because of an endorsement deal their manager, IMG boss Mark McCormack, arranged with the Dunlop/Slazenger company. The locally made clubs out of the Sydney factories of Precision Golf Forgings and Dunlop/Slazenger were world-class and every year Dunlop/Slazenger bought out a new line of irons and woods stamped with the names Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. For its time it was a significant endorsement deal even for The Big Three . Their only responsibility was to play the clubs and golf balls in Australia and they were free to endorse other brands in different parts of the world. Were the superstars coming out here because they were so desperate to add their names to the trophy already won by Gene Sarazen, Jim Ferrier, Ivo Whitton, Bobby Locke, Norman Von Nida and Peter Thomson? Perhaps but it would be a reasonable assumption the endorsement money was a serious attraction in an era when somewhere between a third and a half of all new clubs sold in Australia bore their names. The game has changed much since. Nobody can afford to manufacture clubs locally. The best players have worldwide endorsement deals that preclude anything resembling the arrangement McCormack had brokered. We compete with big money tournaments in Asia, South Africa and the Middle East for players who earn increasingly exorbitant appearance fees. One assumes Nicklaus and Palmer and Player shake their heads at the reported $3 million fees commanded by Tiger Woods and now Rory McIlroy. Two weeks of that and they would pass Nicklaus entire American career earnings! The Australian Open was, and remains obviously, a championship with an incredible honour roll of champions. It is played on our best courses even though it no longer rotates around the country as it did until 1975. This week most of our best players are in attendance and if Adam Scott maintains his Kingston Heath form of a few weeks ago he will be a hard man to beat. This is Scott s first event post the announced ban of his putting method and there will be more newsprint wasted on that subject than anything else. To implement a ban three years from now seems to be an inordinate time for us to wait for the banishment of something that should have been killed off within months of its appearance. He will tire of answering the same question over and over but in Perth last week the 1989 champion Peter Senior had the best answer to the what do you think of the long putter ban? question. About time said Senior, I m putting like an idiot.