WHY THE AUSSIE OPEN HAS LOST SOME LUSTRE
IT’S a great title, one befitting the most historic and prestigious championship in one of the world’s leading golfing nations. There’s no denying that basic fact. But a harsh reality has emerged over the last few years. Right now, the Australian Open isn’t what it was. Or should be. Which is one of the game’s top-10 events.
Yes, the roll-call of winners over the last decade contains major champions like Jordan Spieth (twice), Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy – the Stonehaven Cup clearly remains a desirable item on at least a few highprofile wish lists – but the 113-year old Aussie Open is today not nearly as important as it once was.
It can even be argued that Australia’s national championship isn’t actually the biggest deal in this great nation. Not for the players anyway. Ask any young Australian professional to choose between winning his home Open or finishing first at the Aussie PGA and he would be silly to prioritise the former over the latter. The tangible benefits that come with victory at the PGA currently far outweigh those on offer in the Open. Which is just wrong. But that’s the way it is. Here’s the reality. Win the 2017 Aussie Open at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney and you get a nice chunk of change, an exemption into the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie and, well, that’s about it really. Win the Australian PGA one week later and a similarly large pile of cash will come your way, in addition to – and here’s the big thing – an all-but three-year exemption onto the highly lucrative European Tour. For any professional, young or old, that is a nice comfort blanket to have going forward.
There are other implications that come with the Australian Open’s relative isolation. Quality of field for one. And not in a good way.
“I’m not going to play in the Australian Open this year,” says Marcus Fraser, one half of Australia’s team at the Rio Olympics in 2016. “I’ll be in Hong Kong for the Open there. It is played on one of my favourite courses, one that is wellsuited to my game. Plus, next year is the last year of my exempt status on the European Tour so it is important for me to get some money up. Quite simply, it is in my best interests to play there. It gives me opportunities the Australian Open does not.”
Still, in the midst of this negativity, an opportunity beckons. The end of the Australian Open’s affiliation with the ill-fated One-Asia Tour leaves the event free to look elsewhere. And that, at least to this interested observer, means negotiating a slot on the European Tour without further delay. Think about it. Right now, the month of February is basically up for grabs. And three weeks – say, one in Perth, one in Sydney, one in Melbourne – would also make sense for the Old World circuit. Middle East – Australia – Asia represents a relatively smooth travel schedule for even the leading players before attention turns to the Masters in early April.
“The Australian Open should be one of the best tournaments in the world,” agrees Fraser. “And it has to be on the European Tour to get more of the best players in the field. If it moved to February – the European Tour should be in Australia for that whole month, in my opinion – they would also get a few of the American players to come down.
“I understand why Golf Australia went with the OneAsia Tour in the first place. But now it makes no sense at all. It is time for them to cut their ties and go with the European Tour. With the way the European Tour is growing there would be huge benefits on both sides.”
No one is giving too much away at this stage but, significantly, those with the oomph to make that happen are at least acknowledging the existence of talks.
“As the Emirates Australian Open is the flagship golf event in Australia, we together with Golf Australia felt it was appropriate that the event be sole sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia,” says Patrick Joyce of management company Lagardere (Spieth is a client), who own the rights to the Open title. “The event has always boasted a world class field of major winners and legends as well as the top Australian talent. We are always open to partnerships that will add value to the event and have had an open dialogue with numerous tours on future opportunities. We have had detailed talks with the European Tour as with others. Sadly, I can’t share anymore than that.” Okay, fair enough. But come on everyone – get it done. You know it makes sense.