Date: November 25, 2015
Author: Peter Stone

Where was Queen when Australian golf royalty met


All that was missing was Queen singing We Are The Champions.

Such was the remarkable scene at The Australian GC when 19 former champions, headed by that grand old man of golf Peter Thomson, walked onto the first tee on the eve of the 100th Australian Open Championship.

Three-time champion Thomson, 86, and his fellow octogenarian twice winner Frank Phillips, 83, were spared the effort, or perhaps the indignity, of hitting a ceremonial drive down the hill from outside the clubhouse.

Ageing bodies, at times, have no sympathy with the mind.

The shame of it was that the genial and great Kel Nagle wasn’t with us. Thomson and Phillips were among the 100s to attend his funeral last January with Thomson breaking down while reading his eulogy with his ever-present wife Mary taking over.

So, let’s give a roll call of those whose name is etched on the Stonehaven Cup starting with those who will not be playing the championship this year – Thommo and Phillips of course, and follow, by age, US PGA Championship and US Open champion David Graham (69), Bob Shearer (67), Jack Newton (65) and Rodger Davis (64).

And, then in no particular order, those hitting off in Thursday opening round are: defending champion and world No 1 Jordan Speith, Lee Westwood, Craig Parry, last week’s triumphant Masters winner Peter Senior, Geoff Ogilvy, Greg Chalmers, Peter Fowler, Peter Lonard, Stuart Appleby, Stephen Allan, Adam Scott, John Senden and Robert Allenby.

Introducing the champions was former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch who along with PGA champion Wayne Grady, are surely at the top of the best Australians never to win our national open.

It was Australian golfing royalty gather there on the first tee overlooking the Jack Nicklaus-redesigned Kensington layout that has hosted more opens than any other course in the land.

Senior is ever the one with a great one liner.

Yesterday, when commenting on his rather rotund stature, “I’d make a good sight screen at the cricket.”

Today, he was among the first to play his ceremonial tee shot – “I’m hitting it long these days,” he said to the assembled gathering.

He proceeded to hit with a quarter swing to just trickle the ball down the hill.

No he’d done his stuff at Huntingdale and he’ll save his best for the tournament proper even though he gives himself little chance around the 6619-metres layout.

Or maybe he’s just trying to get the bookies to wind his odds out. Not true, of course, as golfers betting on themselves is not exactly in the rulebook.

Later at a joint press conference held by media officer Kathie Shearer, wife of Bob, she asked the question of Thommo, whose wit has not diminished with his advancing years, “Is there one particular (current) player that you really like to watch?”

“The taxman. I must say I marvel at the golden era, the really golden era, at people winning enormous sums of money and I felt sorry for them for having to pay taxes. Is that alright?” Thommo replied.

You talk of taxes, in my report for the Melbourne Age on Graham winning the 1977 Open at The Australian, which was the first incarnation of the Nicklaus-design of the course, I noted that Graham was handed the winner’s cheque for $36,000 from the $180,000 total purse and when it he opening it the cheque was for $18,577.

The taxman had already cometh.

On the 15th that final day on which Graham beat American veteran Don January by three shots, a Mr Whippy van drove past in Tunstall Ave with its Greensleaves music at full-blast.

The normally subdued Graham whose steely-eyed concentration was rarely distracted broke into a pirouette with hands in the air, but then it was back to the business at hand.

Did he recall it, I asked.

“No, thank God, no. There are a lot of things I’ve erased from my memory and I’m glad to say that’s clearly one of them”

One thing the Dog – David Oswald Graham – will not forget his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the week of this year’s Open Championship at St Andrews.

It hurt him deeply through the years that he was ignored by the voting panel for the WGHOF yet finally the judging was altered last year and he was justly given his recognition. He’d always sworn he didn’t want to be inducted posthumously.

This year, he has returned to the open for the first time since 2011 – the Presidents Cup year at Royal Melbourne – when many of the Cup players played at The Lakes.

On Saturday night, Graham will receive the Australian Golf Writers Association’s Honoree of the Year award that, personally, I would say is long overdue as well. Hell, he is the only Australian to win two separate US majors – two US majors in fact.

The golf writers sincere thanks goes to Golf Australia for acceding to our request to bring David to Australia for the 100th open and to accept our award on Saturday night.

A few paragraphs ago, ice cream was mentioned, and therein lies another yarn. Shearer won the national championship – one of just eight players to ever complete the amateur-open double through more than a century – at The Australian in 1982, beating Nicklaus by four shots despite a self-imposed two shot penalty he called on himself in the opening round.

Nicklaus and Shearer were good friends even before then – and still were afterwards even though Shears has denied Nicklaus the chance to equal Gary Player’s record eight Aussie Open titles.

In 1976, the Golden Bear began his Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village just outside Columbus, Ohio and Shears was an invite. He stayed at the Hilton where Nicklaus and his wife Barbara were lodged for the week and one night they had dinner in the hotel restaurant.

“It came to desert and Jack said, ‘Where not staying here. I know a place down the road,’” Shearer said today.

They went to a Baskin Robbins and bought ice creams. Kathie and Barbara sat at an outside table eating theirs but, as no seats were left, Jack and Bob sat on the kerb of the gutter eating theirs.

Columbus is Jack’s former hometown and cars drove past, horns tooting in recognition of the great man who was still in his prime, while Shears admits no one would have recognised him.

Wouldn’t happen in these days of mobile phones and social media would it?

Yes, yesterday there were many tales to tell, too many to fill this space, but it truly was memorable to see so many of our great players gathered together on one tee box.

If you’re wondering who hit the longest drive – it was Adam Scott who is seeking his second Emirates Australian Open title.