23 Dec 2021 | Professional golf |
14 moments to remember from 2021
by PGA of Australia
By Tony Webeck
When you cast your mind back over the past 12 months of Australian golf what are the moments that stand out?
Was it one of our four wins on the PGA Tour? Minjee Lee’s breakthrough Major championship? The emergence of Lucas Herbert and Min Woo Lee into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings?
Perhaps you prefer to look forward and consider Brisbane’s Olympic endorsement or the band of outstanding amateurs to have joined the pro ranks as important milestones for the future of the game in this country.
Whichever way you look at it 2021 has been memorable for a wide variety of reasons; these are the 14 moments we will never forget.
14. Aussie behind Phil’s historic PGA triumph
It will be regarded as perhaps the greatest single moment in golf in 2021 and an Aussie coach helped to make it happen. Phil Mickelson broke new ground in golf’s history books when at the age of 50 years, 11 months and seven days he became the oldest winner of a men’s major championship, taking out the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by two strokes in front of a heaving crowd in a state of hysteria at what they were witnessing. Waiting calmly well away from the throng was Andrew Getson, a former student of Steve Bann and Dale Lynch at the Victorian Institute of Sport. Getson began teaching at Grayhawk Golf Club in Arizona in 2009 and it was there that he was introduced to Mickelson by his former caddie, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, the pair beginning to work together in late 2015.
The quote: “His guidance has been invaluable to get me back to playing at the highest level because I was striking it very poorly when we started working together. He’s really helped me get my ball-striking back and as I’m starting to focus a little bit better. You’re starting to see the results,” said Mickelson.
13. Jones drives it at home at Honda Classic
Seven years after his maiden PGA Tour win at the Houston Open, Matt Jones delivered one of the most clinical ball-striking performances of the year in winning the Honda Classic in March.
The two-time Australian Open champion looked in complete control at a PGA National layout that can bring the best undone, his five-stroke winning margin equalling Jack Nicklaus (1977) and Camilo Villegas (2010) as the largest in the tournament’s history. It also extended Australia’s streak of winning years on the PGA Tour to 33 – the longest of any nation outside of the USA.
The quote: “Seven years between wins, it’s been a battle. I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, but to win a second time on this golf course in these conditions that we faced all week is, it’s phenomenal.”
12. Team Australia wins on the PGA Tour
Marc Leishman made himself an honorary ‘Mullet Man’ for the week as he and close mate Cameron Smith rode the good vibes to victory at the two-man Zurich Classic in New Orleans. The site of Smith’s first PGA Tour title alongside Jonas Blixt in 2017, the Aussies were engaged in a tense tussle with Presidents Cup teammates Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel throughout the final round. A Leishman chip-in after Smith found the water at the short par-4 16th brought the Aussies back level, the Aussies securing the win with a par at the first playoff hole.
The quote: “I said to the boys, ‘Why don't we just chip this in?’ It wasn't the hardest chip in the world, but under the conditions – well, I won't say it was a must make, but it was certainly very helpful that it went in,” said Leishman.
11. Davis breaks through in style
We’ve known since his 2018 Australian Open victory that Cameron Davis has a knack for producing the unexpected but the manner of his maiden PGA Tour title at the Rocket Mortgage Classic took it to a whole new level. In the greenside bunker at 17 and three strokes behind is not a position many people win tournaments from yet by holing out for eagle and then making birdie at the last, Davis clawed his way into a playoff with Joaquin Niemann and Troy Merritt. Niemann was eliminated at the first extra hole but Davis and Merritt continued to play exceptional golf, the 26-year-old Aussie claiming the crown when Merritt failed to get up-and-down from short of the par-3 15th, the fifth and final hole of the playoff.
The quote: “It's still so surreal for me. I've been in some good positions before, but to play the golf that I played coming down the stretch was just awesome.”
10. Cam and Hannah’s Olympic ambition
Cameron Smith’s mullet garnered much of the pre-tournament attention but it was the Queenslander and West Australian Hannah Green who carried Australia’s hopes of a first Olympic medal in golf in Tokyo. Smith narrowly missed a par putt on the 72nd hole to miss the seven-man playoff for bronze by a single stroke while Green’s hopes of a bronze medal were disrupted by an electrical storm that forced play to be suspended for 45 minutes. When play resumed Green missed the five-metre birdie putt waiting for her on the 17th green to also finish one shot out of the bronze medal playoff.
The quote: “Obviously at the start of the day I was trying to win a gold medal and my first couple of hours on the golf course things weren’t going well and I was scrambling really hard. With nine holes to go, I was nowhere near in it. To be even in contention come the last couple of holes, I’m really proud of myself with how I hung in there,” Green said.
9. Australian golf’s new home opens its doors
The opening of the Australian Golf Centre in Melbourne not only marked the completion of a major construction project but represented the coming together of Australia’s two peak golf bodies. Located adjacent to the redesigned Sandy Golf Links and just a short stroll to Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the Australian Golf Centre now houses staff from both the PGA of Australia and Golf Australia.
At a time when golf participation is booming across the country it is a significant step towards ensuring both bodies work together for the advancement of the game in Australia.
The quote: “It’s about believing what our potential is as a sport. We are nowhere near our potential. But our potential is achievable. But we can’t do it alone. We have to do it together,” said James Sutherland, Golf Australia CEO.
8. Min Woo’s highland fling
Confidence has never been a deficiency in the make-up of Min Woo Lee but that confidence grew into a new level of belief with his victory at the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in July. Three back at the start of the final round, Lee reeled off six straight birdies to close out the back nine and came within one roll of winning in regulation. His tap-in for a closing 64 earned him a spot in the playoff with Belgian Thomas Detry and England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee lasering his second shot to eight feet and converting his chance for the championship. It was the cornerstone of a European Tour season in which he finished sixth in the Race to Dubai standings and ended the year ranked No.49 in the world.
The quote: “It’s just crazy. I’ve kind of dreamt of it last night and people back home staying up late to watch me, sending messages. This one is for you too.”
7. Next generation flood the pro ranks
In time we may come to look back on 2021 as when the golden generation began to make their mark on professional golf. Starting with Gabi Ruffels announcing on February 10 that she was departing the University of Southern California early to join the pro ranks, many of Australia’s best amateurs of recent years chose to take the next step in their careers. Elvis Smylie and Jack Thompson turned pro prior to the TPS Sydney event and marked the occasion with top-10 finishes, Lawry Flynn won the first tournament he played as a professional and Grace Kim won twice on pro tours in the US before she too made the leap. Doey Choi, Louis Dobbelaar, Jed Morgan and Cassie Porter all chose to begin their professional careers in 2021 to complete an influx of Aussies ready to take on the world.
The quote: "My goal is to make the LPGA Tour, to win and go on to become a Major champion. I want to follow the path of my idols, Karrie Webb, Hannah Green, Minjee Lee and Tiger Woods. This is my first step," said Kim.
6. Shark’s shake-up of world golf
A long-time proponent of the establishment of a world tour, Australian golf icon Greg Norman’s appointment as the CEO of LIV Golf Investments – a new golf entity backed by the Public Investment Fund that operates on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia – sent shockwaves through golf’s establishment. The initial investment will see $US200 million plunged into 10 marquee events on the Asian Tour over the next 10 years but Norman is at the forefront of even greater ambition targeted at showcasing the game’s best players.
The quote: “I have been a staunch supporter and believer in playing and developing golf in Asia for more than four decades. We see promotion of these new events as a vital first step in supporting emerging markets, creating a new platform, rich with playing opportunities that create valuable player pathways.”
5. Players Series delivers on every level
Golf is not a sport known for its innovation and daring when it comes to tournament structure so the launch of The Players Series on the PGA Tour of Australasia carried with it some risk. Designed to showcase the best men’s and women’s players in a single tournament for one prize purse, The Players Series’ first event was held at Rosebud Country Club on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in January and delivered instantly on all of its objectives. LPGA Tour player Su Oh had a share of the lead late, gun amateur Elvis Smylie birdied his final three holes to be the clubhouse leader before two-time New Zealand Open champion Brad Kennedy hit a 7-iron at the 72nd hole to tap-in range to clinch victory. At the second TPS event in Sydney two months later Andrew Martin equalled the world record for most eagles in a single round and the 2021/2022 season will see four Webex Players Series events on the schedule.
The quote: “It’s going to help all areas of golf. It’s going to help the men’s game, help the ladies getting to a different demographic of people coming out and watching them play and even the juniors. The juniors were fantastic and so talented,” said Kennedy.
4. Royal Queensland’s Olympic endorsement
It perhaps lacked some of the cultural cut-through of Juan Antonio Samaranch’s announcement that “Syd-a-nee” would host the 2000 Olympics but Brisbane’s appointment as the host city of the 2032 Olympics will impact golf like never before in this country. It will mark the first time that an Olympic golf competition will be played in Australia and provide inspiration to countless boys and girls dreaming of Olympic golf gold over the next decade. It will bring the best players in the world to our shores and shine the light on our golf courses to billions of people around the world. In terms of global impact, it will be the most important golf tournament in Australian history.
The quote: “That Australia will have the opportunity to host the world’s best players on one of our magnificent golf courses will only help to strengthen the game in this country for the next decade to come and beyond,” said Gavin Kirkman, PGA of Australia CEO.
3. Three days of Aussie dominance
It would take hours of research to find a comparative stat but it is possible that Australian golf has never witnessed three days of success like we saw in July. In the space of just 77 hours and starting with Kirsten Rudgeley’s history-making performance in becoming the first Australian winner of the Scottish Women’s Open on July 1, Stephanie Kyriacou (Big Green Egg Open), Lucas Herbert (Dubai Duty Free Irish Open), Louis Dobbelaar (North and South Amateur) and Cam Davis (Rocket Mortgage Classic) all saw the Aussie flag fly high on leaderboards across the globe. Five wins – three professional two amateur – in less than four days is a strike rate we may have never seen before.
The quote: “Getting an international win was definitely on my bucket list and to my name on such a great trophy means a lot,” said Rudgeley upon opening the floodgates.
2. Herbie’s trans-Atlantic double
Winning on either the European Tour or PGA Tour is the mark of a successful season; winning on both in the same calendar year is a feat few Aussie golfers have ever achieved. Splitting his time between Europe and the US in 2021, Lucas Herbert notched his second European Tour title at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, leading from start to finish in an impressive display of mental resolve under pressure. When he won a windswept Bermuda Championship in just his third start as a member of the PGA Tour, Herbert became the first Aussie since Adam Scott in 2008 to win on both men’s major tours in the same year and ensured his place at Augusta National for the 2022 Masters.
The quote: “The next 12 months are going to be really cool. I’ve never played Augusta, so being able to play the Masters is going to be pretty cool. We just talked about Kapalua. Getting to play in a few of these events that I’ve watched growing up on TV, it’s just going to be a cool experience.”
1. Minjee’s Major milestone
There may be nothing harder to live up to than expectation. Ever since claiming the US Junior Girls crown in 2012, Minjee Lee’s path towards a Major championship appeared predetermined. Yet with each LPGA Tour win that followed her maiden title a week before her 19th birthday in 2015 the question loomed: When will she win a Major? The answer was delivered emphatically at the Aumundi Evian Championship in July and in perhaps the manner to be expected. Ten shots behind at the halfway mark and seven shots adrift starting Sunday, Lee shot 64 – including four birdies in her final five holes – to conjure the greatest final round comeback in the history of women’s majors to edge Korea’s Jeongeun Lee6 at the first playoff hole.
The quote: “I’m speechless. I been waiting for this for so long. I hear so many people say, ‘We really want to you win a major’ and, ‘A major is just around the corner’. It’s just really nice to have a major title under my belt.”
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