A FAIR­WAY OVER

FROM JA­SON DAY ON DOWN, THE NA­TION’S GOLFERS CON­TINUE TO EX­CEL–EVEN AS THE TOUR­NA­MENT SCENE HERE SHRINKS IN THE FACE OF THE GAME’S GREATER GLOB­AL­ISM. AS THE GOLF­ING PLANET AS­SEM­BLES IN MEL­BOURNE FOR THE WORLD CUP, WE ASK: JUST WHERE IN THE WORLD DOES AUST

Inside Sport - - ANATOMY OF A CHAMP - By STEVE KEIPERT

Matthew Giles might just em­body the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion nec­es­sary to sus­tain pro­fes­sional golf ca­reers in Aus­tralia in the fu­ture.

The 27-year-old had just come from what sounds like a pretty good gig, fin­ish­ing third at a tour­na­ment in Fiji after lead­ing after two rounds. He will soon com­plete a Mas­ter of Com­merce de­gree at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney that he hopes will al­low him to fos­ter dual oc­cu­pa­tions. Be­cause, as the Aus­tralian “Sum­mer of Golf” be­gins, Giles has con­tested only seven four-round tour­na­ments in 2016 due to a com­bi­na­tion of the time he’s de­voted to study­ing and the lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro golfers who don’t hold a tour card over­seas. Giles bridges the gaps by en­ter­ing pro-ams, which are shorter, far less lu­cra­tive and usu­ally cut-throat, one- or two-round af­fairs. De­spite the dearth of tour­na­ment ac­tion, he still sits fourth on the PGA Tour of Aus­trala­sia money list for the year with nearly $98,000.

The Sum­mer of Golf is a cu­ri­ous para­dox, as the lo­cal golf sea­son nei­ther oc­cu­pies much of the three warm­est months nor ex­tends through­out them. Well, not in the eyes of most sports fans. Truth be told, events are scat­tered across the sea­son and through­out the year, but it’s the Big Three of the Aus­tralian Open, PGA and Mas­ters that peo­ple re­mem­ber. Heck, when Robert Al­lenby some­how con­trived to win all three in one stretch in 2005, the golf me­dia and others within the game had to quickly dream up a term that en­com­passed the tril­ogy: the Triple Crown.

But the Mas­ters is ab­sent from this golf sea­son and it might have dis­ap­peared for good, plum­met­ing into the same abyss that has claimed too many tour­na­ments in re­cent years. Of­fi­cially, the tour­na­ment noted for the win­ner’s gar­ish gold jacket is ab­sent only for 2016, how­ever the like­li­hood of its re­turn de­creases with ev­ery pass­ing day. In its place this year is the World Cup of Golf, a no­madic, spo­radic tour­na­ment last held in 2013, also in Mel­bourne. No longer an an­nual event, the World Cup can­not be viewed as a per­ma­nent re­place­ment for the Mas­ters, which was held in Mel­bourne ev­ery year from 1979 un­til last Novem­ber.

Now back to Giles, who is con­tin­u­ing the ter­tiary study he be­gan while at­tend­ing the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (where he achieved two-time All-Amer­i­can sta­tus while study­ing busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion), stemmed from a de­sire to not be­come bogged down by the suit­case-and-ho­tel life of a tour­ing pro­fes­sional. He’ll com­plete the cur­rent phase of his de­gree at the end of the year be­fore tak­ing a spe­cialised route. The 2006 World Ju­nior and ’13 Vic­to­rian

Open cham­pion says he still prac­tises while study­ing and plays pro-ams when time per­mits, but ex­actly where his de­gree might take him re­mains an un­charted course.

“I just wanted to do some­thing in ad­di­tion to golf,” Giles says. “I’ve got my sta­tus here in Aus­tralia and I’m still plan­ning on play­ing all the big­ger events, but ob­vi­ously our sched­ule is fairly spread out through­out the year. You’ve got events on at the start of the year and then events at the end, but then you’ve got that mid­point where un­less you’re trav­el­ling over­seas you can do other things. So I just wanted to do some other stuff … Hav­ing an out­let away from golf has been re­ally good.

“I’m very pas­sion­ate about sports, I’d love to work in the sport­ing in­dus­try in some ca­pac­ity. I’m good with numbers, so maybe the fi­nance route, but I hon­estly don’t know.”

While Giles says he’s “more than con­tent play­ing ten events a year” and see­ing where academia takes him, he wouldn’t turn down a tour ex­emp­tion out­side Aus­trala­sia. “It just comes down to what ac­ces­si­bil­ity you have and what ex­emp­tions you have. If you played well … at the Aussie PGA, one of those co-sanc­tioned events, and you hap­pened to have a card [in Europe], then ob­vi­ously I’d play, of course. If I got back onto a tour like that, then so be it, but it’s nice hav­ing nor­mal­ity and wak­ing up in the same bed in Syd­ney over a pe­riod of time. This is my sev­enth year as a pro and I’ve seen a lot of air­planes, a lot of ho­tel rooms and it’s nice to just have a lit­tle bit of a break from that.”

Giles’ situation raises the question that con­fronts many tal­ented play­ers once they reach elite sta­tus at home: “Where to from here?” In some re­spects, pro golfers in Aus­tralia are sim­i­lar to ac­tors in that if you’re any good at your craft, vastly greater riches await else­where even though a de­cent liv­ing is achiev­able here. Our line of golf “ex­ports” is long and dis­tin­guished, dat­ing back to the trail­blaz­ing Nor­man von Nida and on, be­yond the other Nor­man who built a multi-faceted global busi­ness em­pire that stemmed from a cava­lier golf ca­reer.

While the world of golf is far bet­ter for Aus­tralia’s in­put, why is Aus­tralian golf not in bet­ter shape? It’s a pas­time that’s not chang­ing as quickly as the so­ci­ety around it, says Peter O’Mal­ley, the cur­rent chair­man of the PGA of Aus­tralia and an eight-time tour­na­ment win­ner on two cir­cuits dur­ing a ca­reer that’s spanned Greg Nor­man’s hey­day and Tiger Woods’ dom­i­nance. “It’s chang­ing and we have to be pre­pared to change with it,” O’Mal­ley tells In­side Sport. “Time is a big fac­tor and the de­mo­graphic has changed. Peo­ple who would pre­vi­ously have joined tra­di­tional golf clubs are in­stead join­ing so­cial golf clubs. Play­ing numbers are not down but

“THE WORLD OF GOLF IS FAR BET­TER FOR AUS­TRALIA’S IN­PUT. WHY IS AUS­TRALIAN GOLF NOT IN BET­TER SHAPE?”

mem­ber­ship numbers are. We need to ask: what do peo­ple who want to play golf re­quire?”

Like many in the know, the man known uni­ver­sally as “Pom” says de­vel­op­ing new for­mats and shorter ver­sions of the game so that it doesn’t soak up as much time is a key to rais­ing in­ter­est lev­els. Six- or nine-hole events, per­haps with a bar­be­cue at the club af­ter­wards, can op­er­ate along­side 18-hole rounds for the diehards. Think of it like cricket, where Test afi­ciona­dos can still get their fill each sum­mer along­side the Twenty20 crowd.

As for the lo­cal golf cir­cuit, there is no such magic bul­let. “We’re go­ing down a line where we have to be aligned with other tours,” O’Mal­ley says. “We have some of the best golfers and golf cour­ses in the world and I think the rest of the world knows that. It’s a mat­ter of em­brac­ing it. The hard thing is fi­nanc­ing it. We have some grand plans but we don’t have the com­pa­nies out there with the mil­lions of dol­lars will­ing to back them.”

And what of the Giles route? “It’s a very valid point,” O’Mal­ley says. “The over­seas tours are get­ting more and more com­pet­i­tive and it’s get­ting harder to find a way onto them. By do­ing some­thing like Matt is do­ing, you can play golf when the tour­na­ments are on and give your­self a sec­ondary in­come stream when they’re not. A lot more play­ers should look at it as an op­tion.”

Still hun­gover from Syd­ney 2000

There’s a flip side to the “where to from here?” quandary. When Aus­tralia’s best golfers come home, what are they com­ing home to? The lo­cal cir­cuit has re­gressed in re­cent years from 13 an­nual tour­na­ments in 1999-2000 to ef­fec­tively just a hand­ful, one of which – the Aus­tralian Mas­ters – is on life sup­port. Blame for some of the de­cline falls to the 2000 Olympics, with more than one fig­ure in golf lament­ing the drain on avail­able spon­sor­ship money the Syd­ney Games cre­ated that grew from a short-term trickle into a gush­ing tor­rent. The pri­mary tour­na­ments to sur­vive, the Aus­tralian Open, PGA and, for now, Mas­ters have done so thanks to the back­ing of state-based tourism bod­ies. (Re­mem­ber the Vic­to­rian Govern­ment kick­ing in $3 mil­lion to bring Tiger Woods to Mel­bourne in 2009?)

Govern­ment in­put se­cured the im­me­di­ate fu­ture of these events but had the resid­ual ef­fect of put­ting up walls be­tween the tour­na­ments. New South Wales sunk its teeth into the Aus­tralian Open, bring­ing it to Syd­ney but lock­ing the na­tional cham­pi­onship there for the past ten years; the Mas­ters re­mained in its tra­di­tional home of Mel­bourne but broke its long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of stay­ing at Hunt­ing­dale Golf Club to in­stead roam all of the city’s world-class Sand­belt cour­ses; Queens­land, mean­while, has been home to the Aus­tralian PGA ev­ery year since 2000. Tour­na­ments have graced Perth in­ter­mit­tently but, suf­fice to say, if you’re a golf fan liv­ing in South Aus­tralia

or Tasmania, get­ting to see top-notch tour­na­ment ac­tion has been as rare as rock­ing-horse ex­cre­ment.

And it gets worse. Our top tour­na­ments be­com­ing state- or tourism body-based con­structs cre­ated an ex­clu­sion zone around the over­seas mar­quee play­ers brought in to drive spec­ta­tor in­ter­est. There is now a lu­di­crous situation in golf whereby im­ported su­per­stars can’t usu­ally con­test mul­ti­ple events be­cause one state “owns” them at the ex­pense of the rest. So while for­mer world No.1 Jor­dan Spi­eth’s vis­its to Syd­ney the past three years have bol­stered the Aus­tralian Open, his only ven­ture away from the Harbour City on these trips were clan­des­tine so­cial rounds in Mel­bourne to sate his Sand­belt cu­rios­ity. Per­versely, Spi­eth was play­ing golf at Royal Mel­bourne and Kingston Heath last Novem­ber at the same time as the Aus­tralian Mas­ters was tak­ing place down the road at Hunt­ing­dale.

Yet this is the kind of can­ni­bal­ism rife in Aus­tralian golf. The game is over-ad­min­is­trated, overly frag­mented and suf­fer­ing as a re­sult. The quan­tity of tour­na­ments is down, golf club mem­ber­ship numbers are fall­ing even if over­all par­tic­i­pa­tion isn’t, and clubs feel­ing the fi­nan­cial pinch are ei­ther sell­ing off land, merg­ing or closing. Over­all, the game is in a pe­riod of con­sol­i­da­tion at best, em­bark­ing on a slow de­cline in real terms or, ac­cord­ing to the doom­say­ers, fac­ing an apoca­lypse.

Each cor­ner of the lo­cal golf in­dus­try is feel­ing this pres­sure, al­though it is rea­son­able to ex­pect the ar­dent na­ture of most golfers is such that, even in a time­poor so­ci­ety, the game will al­ways have some kind of place – and likely a sig­nif­i­cant one – in our sport­ing lex­i­con.

But for gen­eral sports fans who per­haps care for golf only when events are on here, what can we real­is­ti­cally ex­pect on the

“PER­VERSELY, SPI­ETH WAS PLAY­ING GOLF DOWN THE ROAD AT THE SAME TIME AS THE AUS­TRALIAN MAS­TERS WAS TAK­ING PLACE AT HUNT­ING­DALE.”

Aus­tralian tour­na­ment scene in the fu­ture? Should the aim be to sus­tain three to four mid­dling tour­na­ments as we do now, or pool our re­sources and de­frag­ment the pieces to aim for one big event with a large prize­money purse on a great course that will at­tract all the best play­ers? We will never com­pete with the 47-event be­he­moth that is the PGA Tour in the United States. And we al­ready have an ally in the Euro­pean Tour, which co-sanc­tions the Aus­tralian PGA, Fiji In­ter­na­tional and the World Su­per 6 Perth (a new re­place­ment for the Perth In­ter­na­tional next Fe­bru­ary).

With the right date in the world cal­en­dar, the foun­da­tions are there to at­tract or cre­ate a large, per­ma­nent tour­na­ment, if we want to play down that par­tic­u­lar fair­way. Glob­ally, golf will never be like cricket, where the con­tests at home mean far more than away se­ries do, but the open­ing is there to take more of a stance as Aus­tralian tennis does and try to fos­ter a few smaller events – such as the cur­rent state Opens and PGAs – around one huge, glob­ally sig­nif­i­cant cham­pi­onship.

‘Golf slaps you around a bit’

Ja­son Day will end 2016 as the world’s No.1-ranked golfer, au­thor­ing a neat bit of sym­me­try as fel­low Queens­lan­der Greg Nor­man sat atop the rank­ing at the close of 1986 and again in 1996 (no one in golf could come close to Tiger as 2006 mor­phed into 2007). Day fol­lows the lead taken by Adam Scott in win­ning a ma­jor, mul­ti­ple World Golf Cham­pi­onship events and reach­ing the sum­mit of the world rank­ing. Seven years Scott’s ju­nior at age 29, if healthy, Day can be­come our most suc­cess­ful male golfer ever.

That two lads from Queens­land could win a Mas­ters and a US PGA be­tween them, both reach­ing world No.1 along the way, is an ex­cep­tional achieve­ment for a coun­try of our pop­u­la­tion. But per­haps not so amaz­ing con­sid­er­ing the favourable cli­mate and ar­ray of fine cour­ses that Aus­tralian golfers en­joy, plus the breadth and depth of high­cal­i­bre coach­ing avail­able here.

Be­hind Day and Scott are the likes of Marc Leish­man, Matt Jones, John Sen­den and a youth bri­gade headed by Cameron Smith, who fin­ished fourth on his ma­jor de­but at last year’s US Open, and Nathan Holman, the reign­ing Aus­tralian PGA cham­pion. And the tal­ent pipe­line di­rectly be­hind them is in full flow.

Cur­tis Luck this year com­piled one of the great sea­sons in am­a­teur golf. In Au­gust, the icon­o­clas­tic 20­year­old from Perth be­came just the third Aus­tralian to claim the pres­ti­gious US Am­a­teur ti­tle. A month later, he joined Cameron Davis and Har­ri­son Endy­cott in lift­ing the premier am­a­teur team event, the Eisen­hower Tro­phy, for Aus­tralia for the first time in 20 years, win­ning in Mex­ico by 19 strokes. Then in Oc­to­ber, Luck cap­tured the pres­ti­gious AsiaPacific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship, which grants its vic­tor a place in the Mas­ters at Au­gusta Na­tional (for which Luck had al­ready qual­i­fied by virtue of his US Am­a­teur vic­tory). In the space of 50 days, he’d gone from a de­cent prospect to amass­ing one of the great am­a­teur golf ca­reers in mod­ern times. Al­though when he turns pro, most likely in mid­2017, Luck will al­most cer­tainly ex­pe­ri­ence one of the stark re­al­i­ties in golf: there are no guar­an­tees in the play­for­pay ranks for even the best am­a­teurs.

“It is daunt­ing. It’s very re­al­is­tic, golf. It slaps you around a bit. Un­for­tu­nately, the per­cent­age of play­ers that make it is quite low,” Luck, who has al­ready won in the pro ranks by claim­ing the WA Open in May, told a West Aus­tralian news­pa­per in Oc­to­ber. “You have just kind of got to for­get about that. You can’t get stuck on that sort of thing. You’ve just got to be con­fi­dent and be­lieve in what you’re try­ing to ac­com­plish. There’s plenty of rea­sons why you can’t make it and there’s plenty of rea­sons why you can. You’ve just got to think about the peo­ple who did make it and use that as in­spi­ra­tion.”

It’s a fit­ting sen­ti­ment and keenly as­tute com­ing from a player who’s yet to reach the paid ranks. Still, it is Luck’s gen­er­a­tion that golf’s ba­ton will soon fall to. Maybe pos­sess­ing youth gives him a per­spec­tive that’s not weighed down by the dif­fi­cul­ties golf has faced here in its re­cent past, as his fresh, pos­i­tive but tem­pered out­look is eerily rel­e­vant for golf amid its cur­rent funk. And if the pro game doesn’t work out, there are al­ways plenty of jobs on of­fer – and maybe still within golf – for some­one hold­ing a Mas­ter of Com­merce de­gree.

Takes more than fortune: am­a­teur champ Cur­tis Luck is yet an­other ex­am­ple of the tal­ent in the ev­er­flow­ing Aussie golf pipe­line.

Matt Giles, play­ing an Aussie Tour event ... in Fiji. When the eyes of the golf world were last on Kingston Heath, as Tiger Woods brought out Mas­ters masses.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.