By Paul Prendergast.
‘Do we or don’t we?’
Writing a piece hinting at a preview of a major golf event in recent times has been a fraught exercise. I only need think back to an article prepared, researched and with player comments sought ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic event that went to print just as the Games were postponed to 2021, as one of many frustrating examples.
However, with less than a fortnight till Royal Queensland plays host to an historic coalition of the Australian PGA Championship and WPGA Tour of Australasia’s inaugural WPGA Championship, we ‘might’ just be safe this time.
For both the men’s and women’s local Tours, these events will be the largest staged in Australia since the Vic Open concluded right before the pandemic was declared in early 2020. The champions of both events will each earn $180,000, figures that for the vast majority in each field will represent welcome boosts to bank balances that have been plundered unceremoniously over these past years.
On the women’s side in what is a more limited field staging than the men’s equivalent, picking a winner will prove to be a lottery with a gaggle of players capable of claiming their first title of 2022.
As a recent past major champion, Hannah Green is the standout from that perspective alone but any title bid will be met with stiff opposition from fellow LPGA members Su Oh, Sarah Jane Smith, Sarah Kemp, Steph Kyriacou and Karis Davidson, not to mention the remaining cast of highly talented amateurs and professionals invited to the event.
The men’s Vic Open champion from 2020, Min Woo Lee, will make his maiden appearance at Royal Queensland and as reigning Scottish Open champion on the DP World /European Tour, will be an obvious favourite on form and paper to lift his first Joe Kirkwood Cup.
Players either in or approaching ‘veteran’ status of the calibre of Geoff Ogilvy, Brad Kennedy, Brett Rumford, Wade Ormsby, Ryan Fox and Michael Sim all remain credible threats but it will be intriguing if someone from a group of younger players led by Elvis Smylie, Jack Thompson, Anthony Quayle and local members Jake McLeod and Jediah Morgan – runner up in the recent Sandbelt Invitational and the 2020 Australian Amateur champion at RQ – can elevate their careers by adding their names to an esteemed winners list.
The golf course itself, in 2017 U.S. Open venue Erin Hills-style, has been closed to all but members for some weeks now to allow green staff to prepare and maximise its conditioning. A wettish Christmas and early New Year in Brisbane has the golf course in excellent shape and with its customary fairway widths and closely mown turf surrounding the green complexes maintained – just as the members play it.
The golf course shows no evidence of being soft and while ‘firm and fast’ might not be part of the course descriptions come tournament week, if the wind blows as it did playing the golf course today, RQ will more than hold her own.
A number of the par fours for the men will be stretched to beyond 450 metres, or 500 yards in the old scale, and with any kind of wind blowing along the Brisbane River setting, second shots will be at a premium given the many small target areas within the undulating surfaces.
I’m sure the players will love what they find and will revel in the opportunity to immerse themselves in a ‘big’ tournament setting such as this, starved as they’ve been for the opportunity to contest any of our oldest national championships since the summer of 2019/20.
For spectators and the viewing public, it’s an absolute ‘win win’ given the calibre of home grown talent in both fields, headlined by major champions Green and Ogilvy and emerging stars in Oh, Kyriacou, Lee and Co.
No better catalyst for the positives to start flowing as we search for a brighter year ahead for our players.