07 Dec 2022 | Australian Open |

Clayton comment: A tall order

by Mike Clayton

Adrian Meronk presser image
Adrian Meronk was outstanding over the last three days in the sandbelt.

Playing tall used to be hard. Drivers were short and, with steel shafts, heavy. The traditional wisdom was long arms and legs made swinging with any reliability more difficult than players six or eight inches shorter including great past Australian Open champions, Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.

George Archer, the 1969 Masters champion, was six feet six in the old money and to accommodate a driver two or even three inches shorter than the modern club, he was forced to bend is knees more than the norm just to get down to the ball.

Adrian Meronk, the new Australian men’s champion, is same height as Archer but with longer and lighter drivers and a better understanding of how to teach tall men, he’s a window into the future of the men’s game.

Swinging at speed is an almost indispensable skill and a man of Meronk’s build is bound to hit enormous distances, but the new champion is much more than a bash and wedge artist. He was off to a dreadful start, making three bogeys in four holes to begin from Victoria’s 10th hole but from Thursday’s 3-over 73 he blitzed Kingston Heath and Victoria in 66, 63 and 66.

The champion made 20 birdies and two eagles over the final 54 holes, the second of the eagles a quite meaningless three on the final hole to extend the winning margin to five.

Adam Scott started one ahead on Sunday but a clumsy, almost inexplicable, bogey on the one-shot par-4 to begin and two opening birdies by the Pole saw the local hero quickly trailing by two shots.

Scott hit a wild, medium iron into the right bunker at the eighth and then missed a short birdie putt at the long ninth to get to the turn in one over. Meronk in contrast made an easy 4 at the ninth to be out in 32.

Scott then hit a beautiful iron into the 12th and converted the putt and Meronk followed with a bogey at the over-the-hill and down to the green, par-4 13th.

One shot is no guarantee of anything over Victoria’s brilliant and varied four-hole finish. The short par-4, 15th is one of the most vexing short two-shotters in the city and Scott sensibly played back with an iron to avoid the long string of bunkers protecting the left side of the hole.

Meronk took a much longer club and pulled it left into a place no one want to go under the pressure of protecting a lead.

Scott released of the tension by pitching short of the green and Meronk blew a perfectly brilliant long bunker shot out within a few feet of the hole and went to the difficult 16th with a two-shot lead – but still no certainly of winning.

Pars were all the field hope for at the difficult par-3, 16th where everyone is fearful of going long, but Scott blew a long iron off the 460-metre par-4, 17th tee into the irrigation lake hidden behind the ti-tree guarding the right side of the converted par05. How, we ask, can such a beautiful swing hit such a shot? Golf’s hard, right?

Meronk’s bogey was good enough to pick up another shot and three against a five at the last after the Queenslander drove into the fairway bunker gave the champion a five-stroke win. In truth it was much closer, but it was the European who clearly played by far the best golf over the final three days.

The triumph of the week as the twinning of two of the finest golf courses professional golf visits anywhere in the world. Professional golf is always better when it doesn’t sell out and play anywhere for money. Victoria, the shorter of the two courses showed length isn’t essential to modern championship golf so long as the greens and surrounding bunkers and run-offs demand uncommon precision.

More problematic is cutting the men’s field to 30 players on Sunday and it’s something Golf Australia need to address because it’s fair to say most of the players are less than happy with the new arrangement. They can be dismissed as whinging, entitled golf pros with no concept of the commercial reality of running big events, but the national open is too important, in my view, to cut to so few for the final day. And, dismissing Cameron Smith on Saturday night deprived championship Sunday of one of the best three players in the world.

So fine was the line that Spaniard Alejandro Canizares made the final day by one player (29 players were at 2-under leaving room for all those at one under to make it) and one stroke. He was around in 64 on Sunday, finished fourth and earned an exemption into the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Next year the championship is back in Sydney at The Australian and (most likely) The Lakes and whilst this week was a more than worthwhile experiment there is much refining to do before it’s perfect.

And let’s not wait another 20 years to come back to the sandbelt.

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