A “blank” canvas for 2017 as we celebrate our 11th straight Australian Open

Empty chairs await this week’s expected drama on the 18th hole

By Brian O’Hare

THE Australian Open has a storied history stretching back more than a 100 years so I fully realise my own piddling effort in covering the last 11 editions straight doesn’t really stack up that mightily.

Nevertheless, I am happy with my own history at the event, the many happenings, great and small, that I’ve personally witnessed, and also at all I have hopefully learnt about the mysterious entity that is “golf” in the process.

Long may it continue.

Walking around the Australian Golf Club, venue for the 102nd edition, on Tuesday afternoon it was easy to feel the great sense of expectation in the air of how events would unfold in the coming week.

Much of the infrastructure set up for such a big event, the tournament village with all its temporary stalls, sponsors marquees, media centre, food and drink outlets were in place with workmen putting the finishing touches to things.

In the Emirates sponsor area empty chairs looked out on the 18th tee, hopefully scene of some exciting and satisfying drama come Sunday afternoon. In the tournament village the huge broadcast screen was blank, just waiting for the content to flow early Thursday.

Walking past the 18th green 2015 champion and local boy made good Matt Jones was practicing his chipping and putting. Due to circumstances Jones didn’t defend his title last year but as a member of the Australian since he was a youngster if he does need an up and down on Sunday to win his second title he should at least feel full of confidence in his local knowledge.

Matt Jones chipping onto the 18th green during his Tuesday practice round

Up the hill on one of the practice greens was defending champion Jordan Spieth, who professes to love returning each year to contest the Stonehaven Cup. From around 12 feet out we watched the reigning British Open champion miss five putts in a row, all grazing the left hand side of the cup. Can’t remember ever seeing him do that in a tournament when it really mattered.

Jordan Spieth honing the putting on a practice green overlooking what is an immaculately presented course

Spieth first turned up at the Australian Open in 2014 as a fresh faced 21 year old with just one pro win but touted as the next big thing. His acclaimed 8-under 63 course record Sunday saw him win by six strokes an catapult him to two major victories the following year.

It wasn’t just his golf game but his personal demeanour on and off the course that impressed many. I remember walking past the media conference room after one of his opening rounds and seeing Spieth sitting there at the media desk all alone and deserted, but waiting patiently. Someone had dropped him off but hadn’t told anyone he had arrived.

I asked him if anyone knew he was there and he said no, but “no worries” to my apology. Unconcerned, he just went back to checking his phone.

There was certainly a packed room when Spieth turned up for his Wednesday media conference this year, but his friendly demeanour hadn’t changed.

2017 Australian Open … content to come

So who will win this year? Who knows. We heard from Spieth, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Matt Jones, Curtis Luck, Cameron Smith, amateur Min Woo Lee (be kind and don’t ask about his famous sister Minjee at the first opportunity), China’s Min Woo Lee and Yuxin Lin and they all sounded pretty confident.

We just hark back to our first event 11 years ago when, very inexperienced, we entered by a now defunct little entrance in the far south east corner of the Australian course.

Within feet of entering the grounds it was hard to miss the legendary figure of Craig Parry. I thought, isn’t this great, what other sport can you stand just metres away from one of the celebrated stars of the game as they do their stuff?

I was one of a very small band who followed Parry and his group for a couple of holes. He seemed to be going very well but I thought I better do the right thing and go and find some of the real contenders in the event.

Embarrassingly, Parry went on to card a course record-equalling 64 for that round, his second of the tournament, and the 41 year old went on to win the whole shebang.

The following year it was South African Tim Clark who showed very poor predictive ability at Royal Sydney. Finishing his final round at 9-under and with others behind him in a better position thought he had no chance. He gave away all his spare balls, his hat and gloves, told his caddie he’s see him in America in a few months, and went and bought a pie and chips. Half an hour later he was scrambling to get his gear together for a sudden death playoff with Matt Goggin, which he subsequently won.

In 2009 it was a delight to follow Adam Scott for his entire final round at the stunning New South Wales Golf Course for his first Australian Open win. Five time winner Greg Norman presented his protégé with the winning trophy to end a memorable tournament that certainly helped propel Scott to his form at the 2013 US Masters.

There followed three years at The Lakes in Sydney with Geoff Ogilvy, Greg Chalmers and then the inimitable Peter Senior winning on a Sunday disrupted by winds that were knocking over TV towers.

In 2013 it was all about the recently Green-Jacketed Adam Scott winning the Aussie triple crown. Scott had already taken the Aussie Masters and Australian PGA Championship and had one had on the Stonehaven Cup with just a few holes to go. Upstart Rory McIlroy obviously hadn’t read the script about Scott being just the second to win the Aussie grand slam in a single season and snatched the title on the final hole.

So we’re back to 2014 and to what this week could prove to be the start of the Jordan Spieth triple.

Spieth this week for the first time will be without his regular caddie Michael Greller, who is home with his newborn.

Instead he’ll have long time Aussie coach Cameron McCormick on his bag. Asked about the difference that might bring to his game – with Spieth and Greller renowned for their extended discussions before each shot – Spieth responded: “[Cameron] is more like: “Just shut up and hit it.”

So in that vein: Let the tournament begin!


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