Date: February 17, 2019
Author: John Huggan

THE AUSSIES: Kemp and Green lead way

At the end of what might politely be termed a quiet(ish) week for home players at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open – only Sarah Kemp and Hannah Green can claim to have even flirted with contention for the title – the six who survived the halfway cut (nine others failed) were united in their praise for the tournament and the galleries at The Grange Golf Club. Just as it does for the men, the national Open resonates with the women in a way that is unique outside of the major championships.

“This really is the sixth major for any Aussie,” said Katherine Kirk, whose bogey-free final round of 69 left her in a tie for 33rd place. “Whenever anyone asks me for my favourite event, I always say it is all the national Opens. They are the tournaments with the longest history. And there’s no kid that doesn’t dream of winning their own national Open.

“We’ve always had a great time here in Adelaide. The crowds are awesome and the place has a real buzz about it. They cheer a bit more for the home players, which is nice. I certainly felt the energy out there today and fed off it.”

The same can be said for Green and Kemp, the pair tying for 10th on eight-under par for the unofficial title of “low Aussie.” For Kemp, following up her second place finish at last week’s Vic Open with another lucrative four days is huge in career terms. Her combined earnings – in the region of U.S. $100,000 – will almost certainly guarantee her entry into practically every major event for the rest of this year and, in turn, full exemption on the 2020 LPGA Tour. Not bad for someone who, two weeks ago, had little or no status on the world’s most lucrative circuit.

“It’s been amazing,” she said between broad smiles. “I could never have imagined a start to the year like this. It’s pretty cool to have to rearrange all my plans. But I’m not completely surprised. I had a decent year in 2018 on the Ladies European Tour. I was 5th on the money-list. So, although I wasn’t expecting to play this well, I haven’t been bad. I came here with a bit of confidence.

“This week has been so wonderful too. As a kid I dreamt of winning the Australian Open. If I could win any tournament in the world, it really would be a toss-up between the U.S. Open and this one.”

Green was equally pleased, well, almost, with her closing 70.

“It feels good, especially after I played so poorly last week,” said the 22-year old from Perth. “That wasn’t how I wanted to play back here in Australia. So, although I could have putted a bit better today, I’m very happy with my overall result. The crowds have been so supportive. They made me feel so comfortable. I’m so grateful to everyone who came here from far and wide to support me.”

Next best of the home bunch was, predictably enough, world number-seven, Minjee Lee. Breaking par for the fourth time – a feat matched by only five others – the Western Australian’s 69 tip-toed her into the top-15 on seven-under par.

“My week got better as it went on, but only a little,” was the 22-year old Lee’s immediate verdict. “I feel like I’m striking the ball pretty well. But I haven’t been able to hole a lot of putts. That was the difference between where I am on the leader board and winning. I needed a couple more putts to drop each day. I do feel like I’m going in the right direction though. And I’ve enjoyed my week. Playing in our national championship is always special. Every Australian wants to win this one. I know it has a special place in my heart.”

Speaking of body parts, one Aussie was suffering more than a little during the final round. On the eve of the final round, Karis Davidson suffered a deep cut to her right index finger that left the Scottish-born Queenslander in more than a little pain and discomfort. Not that it seemed to unduly affect her performance, even if it meant an adjustment to her grip.

“Today was more interesting than it might have been,” she said with a rueful smile after holing-out for a 69, her best score of the week, and a T-27 finish. “I’ve actually removed a chunk of my finger. But it worked out pretty well. I had a few putts skim the hole, so it could even have been lower. But overall I hit the ball pretty solidly. I’m happy enough with my day.”

Predictably, the biggest home-crowd reception was reserved for Karrie Webb, whose closing 73 left her on three-under par and T-38. Five-times a winner of this event, the 44-year old Queenslander long ago attained legendary status in Australia. And everywhere else really. Still, for all that she expressed her appreciation of the obvious affection emanating from the galleries, the competitor in her shone through too.

“The weekend has been disappointing,” she said. “I just haven’t played as well as I would have liked. The greens really firmed up today. I hit a couple of over the green and was in jail back there. And nothing much dropped on the greens. I loved every minute though. There was so much love out there for me. It was really good. When we Aussies play overseas we don’t get that sort of treatment so it is extra-nice when we do. It’s great to play at home. I’ve never missed a Women’s Australian Open and I never will.”

All in all, the perfect example from Australian golf’s number-one ambassador. And the ideal epitaph at the end of a terrific week for the women’s game at The Grange.