THE BAR­REN YEARS

It has been 25 years since Greg Nor­man won The Open at Royal St Ge­orge’s. There have been close calls since but the claret jug con­tin­ues to dodge Aus­tralian hands. Will one of the seven Aussies head­ing to Carnoustie end the drought?

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS MICHAEL JONES

The Claret Jug has eluded the kiss of an Aus­tralian for 25 years. Can one of the seven Aussies head­ing to Scot­land end the drought and cap­ture golf’s most prized piece of sil­ver­ware?

Twenty-five years have passed since Shane Warne de­liv­ered the ball of the cen­tury to Mike Gat­ting and Paul Keat­ing won the ‘un­winnable election’. Aus­tralia’s pop­u­la­tion was still un­der 18 mil­lion and Al­lan Bor­der was set to be­come the great­est run scorer in the his­tory of Test cricket. It has also been 25 years since an Aus­tralian was tri­umphant at golf’s old­est and most cel­e­brated tour­na­ment; The Open Cham­pi­onship, which was won in record fash­ion by Greg Nor­man in 1993 at Royal St Ge­orge’s. Aus­tralians have found more suc­cess at the Open than any other ma­jor cham­pi­onship – but the cov­eted Claret Jug has now eluded the kiss of an Aus­tralian for longer than any of the game’s four most pres­ti­gious tro­phies.

Ja­son Day hoisted the Wana­maker Tro­phy at Whistling Straits in 2015; Adam Scott fa­mously donned the Green Jacket in 2013; and Geo„ Ogilvy won the US Open at Winged Foot in 2006.

The last time Aus­tralia ex­pe­ri­enced such an ex­ten­sive drought at the Open came be­tween Peter Thom­son’s fifth vic­tory in 1965 and Greg Nor­man’s maiden ma­jor ti­tle at Turn­berry in 1986.

That’s not to say there haven’t been cases of

near misses for men from Down Un­der; on the con­trary, there have been plenty of ‘what ifs’ and if onlys’ since The Shark broke – what was, at the time – the ag­gre­gate scor­ing record.

Those close calls be­gan with Steve Elk­ing­ton at the Old Course in 1995. The New South Welsh­man, who now re­sides in Texas, was three shots o„ the lead head­ing into the fi­nal round but shot two-over 74 to fin­ish two shots out of the playo„. Brett Ogle, Greg Nor­man and Robert Al­lenby also fin­ished within a hand­ful of shots of mak­ing the play-o„.

Craig Parry then came painfully close to hav­ing his name en­graved on the Jug in 1999 at Carnoustie – rock­et­ing to the lead with seven holes to play. But the pop­u­lar ‘Paz’ im­me­di­ately made triple-bo­gey and fin­ished tied-fourth.

“The golf course was even­tu­ally go­ing to get ev­ery­one, and it got me on the back nine … I felt like I threw it away,” Parry said.

Then, in 2002, Aus­tralia had two chances of seiz­ing back the tro­phy when both Elk­ing­ton and Stu­art Ap­pleby joined Thomas Levet and even­tual cham­pion Ernie Els in the epic four­way, four-hole play-o„ at Muir­field. But it wasn’t to be, as both of our play­ers failed to fire.

“As an Aus­tralian, we have cer­tainly had an aœli­a­tion with this tour­na­ment for many years,” Ap­pleby said. “We prob­a­bly have a stronger hold out­side of the Euro­peans with the Bri­tish Open as any­body.”

Ten years ago, Greg Nor­man be­came the old­est player in cham­pi­onship his­tory to hold the lead head­ing into the fi­nal round. The then 53-year-old was two strokes clear at Royal Birk­dale – but he shot seven-over 77 to even­tu­ally share third place.

“Ob­vi­ously I’m dis­ap­pointed,” Nor­man said. “That would be an un­der­state­ment if I didn’t say I was dis­ap­pointed. But it was a tough day to­day. I think at the end of the day, a lot of peo­ple should take stock that no mat­ter how old you are, if you re­ally want to chase some­thing and chase a dream, you can go do it.

“Even though there’s fail­ure at the end of it for me, I still put my­self in po­si­tion to re­ally show a lot of other peo­ple that you can go do some­thing if you re­ally want it.”

The fol­low­ing year, in 2009, Matthew Gog­gin was one shot o„ the lead on Sun­day morn­ing at Turn­berry. But the Tas­ma­nian carded three-over 73 to fin­ish two shots out of a play-o„.

“I mean, it’s the best I’ve played in a ma­jor,” Gog­gin said. “It was a great day and a very dis­ap­point­ing day.”

Adam Scott then fa­mously col­lapsed at the 2012 cham­pi­onship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, sur­ren­der­ing his four-shot bu„er and los­ing by one stroke to Ernie Els af­ter bo­gey­ing each of his fi­nal four holes.

“I can’t jus­tify any­thing that I’ve done out there,” Scott said. “I didn’t fin­ish the tour­na­ment well to­day. But next time – and I’m sure there will be a next time – hope­fully I can do a bet­ter job of it. I don’t think I’ve ever played this well in a ma­jor cham­pi­onship, so that’s a good thing for me

mov­ing for­ward.”

Scott fin­ished four shots o the lead the fol­low­ing year at Muir­field and tied for third place, be­fore shar­ing fifth with Marc Leishman at Royal Liver­pool in 2014.

Leishman con­tin­ued that good form the fol­low­ing year at the Old Course at St An­drews. In fact, with the fi­nal pair­ings within view of the Auld Grey Toon Leishman, Scott and Ja­son Day oc­cu­pied three of the top four spots on the leader­board. Surely the drought would be bro­ken. But it wasn’t to be.

Vi­tal missed putts from Scott and Day late in the round sealed their fate. Leishman also had his chances to win the Cham­pi­onship out­right but ended up in a three-way play-o against Louis Oosthuizen and even­tual cham­pion Zach John­son. When the big Vic­to­rian’s tee shot on the first ex­tra hole rolled into a divot, his run at the Claret Jug was all but over.

“I’m ob­vi­ously pretty dis­ap­pointed at the minute, hav­ing a chance to win it and not be­ing able to take it, but that’s golf, un­for­tu­nately,” Leishman said. “I’m happy. Don’t worry about that. I’ve just fin­ished sec­ond in the Open. Yeah, I could have won it, but look, my per­spec­tive is quite good at the mo­ment.

“I can go home to­mor­row and hug Au­drey and the boys and cel­e­brate a lit­tle bit, I guess. It would have been nice to have a Claret Jug to drink out of to cel­e­brate, but I’ll find some­thing else.”

Last year, at Royal Birk­dale, Leishman was the high­est-fin­ish­ing Aus­tralian and tied for sixth place, hav­ing signed for the best score of the week­end (nine-un­der 131).

“Con­sid­er­ing I made the cut on the num­ber, it turned into a good week,” Leishman said. “Take that 76 out Fri­day and it could be a di er­ent story.”

It has cer­tainly be­come a frus­trat­ing case of near misses for Aus­tralians since Greg Nor­man found suc­cess at Royal St Ge­orge’s.

But, thank­fully, the Aussie con­tin­gent head­ing to Carnoustie this month is one of the strong­est we have as­sem­bled in quite some time – and it presents a very re­al­is­tic chance of end­ing the bar­ren years be­fore they ex­tend beyond the quar­ter-cen­tury mark.

Day and Leishman are both fir­ing on all cylin­ders; Scott al­ways seems to find his best in time for the cham­pi­onship; Cameron Smith is al­ready one of the finest young tal­ents in the world; Brett Rum­ford and Matt Jones are now both ex­pe­ri­enced Open cam­paign­ers; and Cameron Davis and Lu­cas Her­bert have both shown a lik­ing for links-style golf.

There is noth­ing to sug­gest that any one of those play­ers won’t join Peter Thom­son (5), Greg Nor­man (2), Kel Na­gle (1) and Ian Baker-Finch (1) in be­com­ing an Aus­tralian Cham­pion Golfer of the Year.

Aus­tralian golf fans have waited pa­tiently for the past 25 years. Here’s hop­ing one of our boys will re­pay the favour and reignite our love a air with an event Nor­man once de­scribed as: “The Open Cham­pi­onship of the world.”

Ian Baker-Finch claimed the Claret Jug ahead of fel­low Aussie Mike Har­wood.

Craig Parry (above) made a run at the ti­tle in 1999. Elk­ing­ton and Stu­art Ap­pleby made it to the play-off at Muir­field in 2002.

Steve Elk­ing­ton was only a few shots shy of the play-off at St An­drews in 1995.

A de­jected Adam Scott af­ter four bo­gies in the fi­nal four holes cost him the Open in 2012.

Marc Leishman’s bid at St An­drews in 2015 was thwarted by a drive fin­ish­ing in a divot.

Scott went close again in 2013 when Phil Mick­el­son surged to the ti­tle at Muir­field.

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