A long-awaited Major title helped secure Perth’s Minjee Lee her second Player of the Year award.
Player of the year: Minjee Lee
The conversation about the best golfer yet to win a women’s Major no longer applies to Minjee Lee. At her 37th attempt, she officially earned her place among the pantheon of Australian greats with a majestic victory at the Amundi Evian Championship in France.
Trailing by seven strokes entering the final round, Lee fired a scintillating seven-under 64 before prevailing against Jeongeun Lee6 with a birdie on the first playoff hole. She had matched the largest final-round comeback in women’s Major championship history.
A Major had been the only missing piece in the résumé of the 25-year-old from Perth. It’s the highlight of an already impressive career that includes a US Girls’ Junior (2012), an Australian Girls’ (2013), two Australian Women’s Amateurs (2013, 2014) and the World Amateur Team Championship representing Australia (2014). The Evian Championship marked her ninth professional victory.
Lee had a relatively slow start to 2021 with just two top-10s in her first 10 starts. Entering the Evian Championship, she had fallen to world No.15 (her lowest ranking in three years). It appeared unlikely to improve at the halfway mark of the year’s fourth Major as she trailed by 10 strokes. But Lee rallied with 12 birdies and no bogeys over her closing 26 holes while third-round leader Lee6 collapsed with five bogeys on her Sunday front nine.
The West Australian still needed four birdies on the last five holes to tie Lee6 at 18-under par. Then when Lee6 wet her approach in the playoff, Lee’s two-putt birdie was enough to claim prizemoney of $US675,000.
The high of a Major title didn’t translate to success at the Olympics in Tokyo, where Lee struggled in debilitating heat to finish T-29. But she bounced back with a T-5 at the Women’s British Open, followed by second placings in Arkansas and on the KLPGA Tour before closing the year with a T-5 at the LPGA Tour Championship.
For the 2021 LPGA season, Lee finished fourth in Official Money ($US1,542,332) and fifth in Rolex Player Of The Year points. Including her Major victory, Lee had seven finishes in the top-five. She missed just two cuts in 18 LPGA appearances.
Now 25 and with the Major monkey off her back, it remains to be seen whether the floodgates open for Lee in a metaphorical sense. Ranked world No.7, Lee is entrenched among the best women players – ending the year in the top-10 for the fourth consecutive year.
2020: Cameron Smith
2019: Hannah Green
2018: Minjee Lee
2017: Marc Leishman
2016: Jason Day
2015: Jason Day
2014: Adam Scott
2013: Adam Scott
2012: Adam Scott
Male player of the year: Lucas Herbert
It’s been a rapid rise for the boy from Bendigo. Despite challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Lucas Herbert managed to navigate the chaos and burst into the world’s top-50 golfers.
Ranked 201st at the beginning of 2020, Herbert captured his maiden pro title at the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic in a playoff and was runner-up at the New Zealand Open before the world came to a shuddering halt.
Herbert took his game to another level in 2021. He demolished a strong field at the Irish Open by three strokes in a wire-to-wire performance. Then he secured promotion to the PGA Tour via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals courtesy of a T-4 in Idaho. Ten weeks later, Herbert grasped a two-year tour exemption with victory at the windswept Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
Herbert’s three victories during the past two years equal the combined tally by Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith. So from requiring sponsor exemptions to gain European Tour starts just four years ago, 26-year-old Herbert now has permanency on the world’s two main circuits along with starts
in all four Majors in 2022.
Rookie player of the year: Gabriela Ruffels
It was a question of when not if Gabi Ruffels would turn professional. The 2019 US Women’s Amateur champion had shown she was ready for the pro ranks having recorded three top-20 results in the 2020 women’s Majors.
Ruffels turned pro last February, making her debut at the Gainbridge LPGA in Orlando where she finished T-36. Her best result for the year was fourth at the IOA Championship on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit. While shuffling between the LPGA and Symetra, she made nine cuts from 14 tournament appearances.
At the Majors, Ruffels once again featured at the ANA Inspiration where she tied for 19th – her fourth Major top-20. She posted a creditable T-33 at the Women’s PGA Championship, which elevated her to a career-high 121st on the world ranking. The 21-year-old finished the year as Australia’s sixth-ranked female golfer.
2020: Stephanie Kyriacou
2019: Min Woo Lee
2018: Karis Davidson
2017: Hannah Green
2016: Su Oh
2015: Minjee Lee
2014: Cameron Smith
2013: Matt Stieger
2012: Julia Boland
Amateur player of the year: Louis Dobbelaar
Louis Dobbelaar created history in 2016 as the youngest-ever winner of the men’s New Zealand Amateur at just 15 years of age. Now the 20-year-old from Ipswich is poised to deliver on that early promise after a breakout year.
After golf’s hiatus due to government lockdowns in 2020, Dobbelaar roared back into action by capturing the Queensland, Tasmanian and Port Phillip Open amateur titles to close out the year. In February 2021, Dobbelaar triumphed at the Australian Men’s Amateur Championship at Kooyonga. He followed that with three solid performances against professional fields, including a third-place finish at the TPS Sydney in March.
With limited playing opportunities at home due to lockdowns, Dobbelaar set his sights on the American summer. He struck success immediately at the prestigious Dogwood invitational in Atlanta where he won by two strokes. Three weeks later he captured the 121st North & South Amateur at famed Pinehurst Resort, prevailing over 19 holes in the matchplay final.
With six titles in 10 months and rising to a career-high 23rd on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Dobbelaar needed another challenge. In November he tried his luck at qualifying school for the PGA Tour Latinoamérica and secured membership on the South American circuit with a runner-up finish.
2020: Gabriela Ruffels
2019: Gabriela Ruffels
2018: David Micheluzzi
2017: Dylan Perry
2016: Curtis Luck
2015: Ryan Ruffels
2014: Minjee Lee
2013: Oliver Goss
2012: Breanna Elliott
Junior player of the year: Jeffrey Guan
Since being selected for major pennants at age 10 and becoming a club champion at 12, Jeffrey Guan has been earmarked for success. Now a bunch of top results as a 16-year-old against junior and open competition has increased the hype around the son of Chinese migrants.
Just prior to Christmas 2020, Guan claimed the New South Wales Junior Championship at Mount Broughton in the Southern Highlands. Last January he was medallist at the NSW Amateur on the Central Coast and then progressed to its matchplay final at Magenta Shores. Two weeks later in February, he finished runner-up at the Australian Men’s Amateur at Kooyonga in Adelaide, just two shots adrift of Louis Dobbelaar over 72 holes.
In April, Guan joined illustrious company when he won the Australian Boys’ Amateur. The one-stroke triumph at Gold Creek in Canberra put his name alongside the likes of Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Cameron Smith. However, government lockdowns put an early end to Guan’s year after having risen to 167th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
2020: Elvis Smylie
2019: Karl Vilips
2018: Karl Vilips
2017: Karl Vilips
2016: Min Woo Lee
2015: Ryan Ruffels
2014: Ryan Ruffels
2013: Su Oh
2012: Minjee Lee
Senior player of the year: Rod Pampling
It had been 18 years since an Australian celebrated victory on the PGA Tour Champions. Rod Pampling stood tall and ended a title drought dating back to Rodger Davis’ triumph in 2003.
A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Pampling had made a smooth transition onto the over-50s circuit in late 2019. However, it was a fast-finishing fourth at the 2021 US Senior Open in July that proved the tonic for the former greenkeeper from Brisbane. Five weeks later in Snoqualmie, Washington state, Pampling enjoyed a hot week with the putter to claim the Boeing Classic by a stroke.
“It’s fantastic,” Pampling said. “You look at all the Hall of Famers [who] are just phenomenal out here. There’s so many and they still play really good golf, which people think they don’t. But I’ll tell you what, they play so good.”
Pampling was a model of consistency in 35 PGA Tour Champions appearances across the merged 2020-2021 season. He registered nine top-10 results and 23 finishes in the top-25 placegetters. Pampling finished 15th on the moneylist with earnings of $US1.74 million.
2020: Rod Pampling
2019: Sue Wooster
2018: Sue Wooster
2017: Sue Wooster
2016: Peter Fowler
2015: Peter Fowler
2014: Peter Fowler
2013: Peter Senior
2012: Peter Senior
PGA Associate player of the year: Lachlan Aylen
Such was Lachlan Aylen’s dominance in 2021 that he was clearly the leading PGA Associate Player prior to the year-ending National Championship. Aylen won six PGA Associate Matches while working at Eynesbury Golf in Melbourne’s west.
The highlight of his first year in the Membership Pathway Program (formerly known as the Trainee Program) came at the PGA Associate Victorian Championship in May when Aylen romped to a five-stroke victory at Tocumwal Golf Club.
By late 2021, Aylen led the PGA Associate Player rankings with an adjusted scoring average of 3.19-under par (almost a stroke clear of the next best at 2.25-under par). In 23 tournament rounds he had shot over par just twice (one-over and three-over).
“I’ve been really happy with how I’ve played this year, despite all the challenges thrown at us with border restrictions and lockdowns,” Aylen said. “I’m just really grateful we can get back out on course and compete and hopefully I can get a few starts in some events over summer and see how I go.”
2020: Elliot Beel
2019: Brayden Petersen
2018: Frazer Droop
2017: Frazer Droop
2016: Brody Martin
2015: Deyen Lawson
2014: Taylor Cooper
2013: Jack Wilson
2012: Quinton Howe
Coach of the year: Dominic Azzopardi
It’s the call of duty when a coach responds to a play-er’s distress signal. For Dom Azzopardi, it came this past October when star pupil Lucas Herbert missed the cut in his first two starts as a PGA Tour member.
Azzopardi flew across the Pacific to have a closer look at the 25-year-old’s swing. As it turned out, Herbert’s takeaway was too much on the inside, which made it difficult to square the clubface at impact. The result was leaking shots to the right or double-crossing to the left.
The pair worked on swing adjustments for two weeks prior to the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. It paid immediate dividends as Herbert claimed his maiden PGA Tour title to go with his Irish Open trophy earlier in the year.
Herbert’s rise to 43rd on the Official World Golf Ranking seems rapid. Yet for Azzopardi it’s been a 12-year journey that began at Ballarat Golf Club when he started teaching Herbert as a 13-year-old. It’s a journey that has vindicated Azzopardi’s path into coaching.
2020: Ritchie Smith
2019: Ritchie Smith
2018: Gareth Jones
2017: Ritchie Smith
2016: Dean Kinney
2015: Cameron McCormick
2014: Ritchie Smith
2013: Brad Malone
2012: Denis McDade
Superintendent of the year: Craig Molloy
During the drought that ravaged south-eastern Australia three years ago, Craig Molloy realised a need to improve water usage at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort in the NSW Hunter Valley. Molloy began a drought-management plan that improved water storage, collection, irrigation and recycling.
Molloy’s greenkeeping crew helped reduce water consumption by 18 percent. The new bunker drainage system has been so successful, it collects more than 7.5 million litres of stormwater. (Previously, rainfall greater than 3mm used to flood the sand traps.)
Elsewhere, clever earth-shaping enabled surface rainwater from roads and buildings to feed back into dams for irrigation. Sewage is also processed on-site in a designated treatment plant. Now the resort re-uses more than 30 million litres to irrigate the property.
After the comprehensive overhaul of Cypress Lakes’ water practices, the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association acknowledged Molloy with its Excellence In Golf Course Management award.
2020: Anthony Mills (The Lakes)
2019: Jon Carter (Wanneroo)
2018: Mark O’Sullivan (Roseville)
2017: Phil Soegaard (Lakelands)
2016: Mick McCombe (Maleny)
2015: Simon Bourne (Cottesloe)
2014: Shaun Cross (Byron Bay)
2013: Michael Bradbery (Manly)
2012: Ben Tilley (Headland)
Services to golf: David Greenhill
In a distinguished career in administration spanning 30 years, David Greenhill has become a staple of the Victorian golf industry. His finest achievement has been to envisage a Vic Open in which women would play alongside men in separate tournaments for equal prizemoney.
Greenhill’s administrative career started as the Victorian Golf Association’s golf programs manager. He later served as interim chief executive of Golf Victoria before moving to Golf Australia with his current role as state services manager. Another of Greenhill’s significant achievements has been to champion The Longest Day of Golf, which has raised more than $3.2 million for skin cancer research.
Significantly, Greenhill was the brainchild behind the innovative format that was introduced at the 2012 Victorian Open at Spring Valley Golf Club. After a 20-year-absence as a ladies event, 33 women joined the men as they competed concurrently
for purses of $125,000.
Fast forward 10 years and the Vic Open has been completely revitalised. It has a wonderful home at 13th Beach on the Bellarine Peninsula. Combined prizemoney has increased to $3 million. And co-sanctioning arrangements have been struck with the European and LPGA tours, giving opportunities for young talent to launch professional careers.
While others have received credit for the tournament’s success, it’s fair to say the Vic Open wouldn’t be in its current position if not for Greenhill’s vision. “It was his idea and he just doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for that tournament – how it started and what it’s become now,” says Warren Sevil, a former chief executive of Australian Ladies Professional Golf.
2020: Karrie Webb
2019: Peter McMaugh
2018: Jarrod Lyle
2017: David Cherry AM
2016: Duncan Andrews
2015: John Hopkins
2014: Warren Sevil
2013: Bob Tuohy
2012: Ramsay McMaster