16 Jul 2021 | Professional golf |

Clayton: Thomson would be exhorting Aussies to raise their games

by Mike Clayton

Adam Scott teeing off in round 1 of The Open.

Forty years ago, Peter Thomson wrote a stinging column in The Age lamenting the performance of the local pros coming into the Australian Open at Victoria Golf Club.

In the lead up tournaments, Bill Rogers, the best player in the world in 1981, won the New South Wales Open at The Lakes. Irishman Eamonn Darcy had beaten Scotsman Sam Torrance in a playoff at Royal Adelaide, Gary Player beat Bob Shearer by four shots on the Gold Coast and around Royal Melbourne, Severiano Ballesteros took the Australian PGA on a course made for his beautiful game.

Thomson’s column, both pointing out the reality and aiming to fire up the home players, upset Greg Norman who took exception to what he saw as Thomson’s negative attitude toward the play of his fellow countrymen.

By the end of the week, our powder was found to be dry again as Rogers beat Norman by a shot when, after a monster drive down the par 5, 18th, the Queenslander dumped a short iron into the front bunker and made a five.

Four decades on, it’d be hard to argue we haven’t had a good time of it recently on the tours of America and Europe. In the past fortnight, two of our best young ‘kids’, Lucas Herbert and Min Woo Lee, have won two of the old world’s biggest tournaments and Cameron Davis won in Detroit a few weeks ago.

It’s impressive stuff no doubt but Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith and Jason Day are still probably our most likely to play great golf in a major championship.

Smith was second in the November 2020 Masters and 10th in the replay five months later, a week where Leishman was 5th. Day was 5th at Augusta in 2019 and 4th at the PGA a year later. Scott’s last top 10 finishes in the majors were pre-pandemic when he was 8th at the PGA and 7th at the US Open.

Likely Scott, Leishman and Day have played their best golf but if this year has showed us anything, brilliant players can still win big championships even at fifty years old. Indeed, Kel Nagle played his best golf between forty (when he won the 1960 Open at St Andrews) and fifty.

On Thursday, Leishman and Day were 75, a score leaving both a lot to do to just be around for the weekend. Scott shot 73 and Smith was the best of the Australians with 69.

It’s been a dry run in the men’s majors since Day won the PGA in 2015 and winning is obviously extraordinarily hard.

The ‘but’ is since 2019 our four best have, in 39 majors, missed the cut 10 times and been lower than 40th nine more times. It’s not been a great run and if Peter was still around, he’d be exhorting them to raise their games at the biggest moments.

The controversy of the opening day at Royal St Geroge’s was, not unusually, created by Bryson DeChambeau who hit only four fairways and then blamed his equipment company for being unable to make a 46-inch-long driver with 5 degrees of loft go straight when he mishits it.

What a shock a driver with those characteristics has him “living in a razor’s edge”. In a major championship it’s surely not where you want the most important club to leave you.

A Cobra spokesman noted the company founded by Tom Crow the great Australian clubmaker, make an inordinate number of clubs for Bryson to test, one presumes in a quest to find one allowing for maximum distance as hitting the fairway has never really been a priority.

Thomson, of course was a fairway finder in an era when distance wasn’t as critical to success as it is now. ‘The main thing about golf’ wrote Thomson, ‘is to get your first shot onto what used to be called the fair ground, now called the fairway. It doesn’t matter a lot if you’re 50 meters on or 50 meters back. That will be taken care of by the next shot. Getting the ball into play – or as I call it, serving the ball into court – is vital.’

It’s not hard to imagine what Thomson would say to a man who’d managed to hit only four fairways and then complained about his driver and that he couldn’t control his wedges from the rough.

He’d suggest he should have had his driver sorted out well before the biggest championship of the year and he’d tell him to perhaps forsake just a little distance for accuracy.

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