A year headlined by two Major winners reinforced the magnitude of the golf talent emanating from our shores.

Player of the year: Cameron Smith

What a difference a year makes. While renowned by his peers for possessing an exquisite short game, 12 months ago Cameron Smith was better known for the trademark mullet that has endeared him to a legion of fans.

But winning regularly changes perceptions. The 29-year-old enhanced his reputation with an ability to execute under pressure as well as a bunch of Sunday charges that would lead to victories in the manner of another famous sandy-haired Queenslander.

At the year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in Hawaii, Smith rattled off birdie after birdie to thwart world No.1 Jon Rahm and establish a new PGA Tour scoring record of 34-under par 258.

At Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, Smith forged a final-round 66 to beat the strongest field in golf at the Players Championship. He did so with gritty determination, birdieing the first four holes on TPC Sawgrass’ back nine on Sunday to set up victory – one that elevated him to one of the game’s marquee players.

Smith produced two of the year’s iconic shots at Sawgrass. His tee shot on the par-3 17th flirted with the water on the island green to set up his 10th birdie of the final round. Even better was the clutch up-and-down to save bogey at the last after finding water with his second.

Yet those two shots almost pale into insignificance by comparison with Smith’s par save on the 17th at St Andrews’ Old Course in July. With the 150th Open Championship on the line, Smith entered Australian sporting folklore with a two-putt around the notorious Road Hole bunker.

Yet it was five straight birdies from the 10th that kick-started another Sunday charge as Smith erased a four-stroke overnight deficit to overhaul fan favourite Rory McIlroy. He would birdie the last hole for an inward nine of 30 and a closing 64, edging American Cameron Young by a single shot to be crowned ‘Champion Golfer Of The Year’. His 20-under par 268 bettered Tiger Woods’ total in the 2000 Open at St Andrews by a stroke and equalled Henrik Stenson’s tournament record in relation to par (2016, Royal Troon).

It had been a 29-year drought for Australians at The Open. In a quirk of history, the young man who ended that drought was born exactly one month after Greg Norman scorched Royal St George’s in 1993 with a scintillating closing 64.

St Andrews revealed Smith’s resilience. His performance was all the more meritorious for the fact it came just three months after a first Major disappeared into Rae’s Creek on Augusta National’s 12th hole where he carded a triple-bogey 6 when challenging Scottie Scheffler for the Masters.

In late August, Smith became the face of LIV Golf when the world No.2 departed the PGA Tour for Norman’s Saudi-backed league with a sign-on fee reported to be $US140 million. He became the new captain of the all-Australian Punch GC and in just his second start won LIV Golf Invitational Chicago with a 13-under total.

Such was the animosity towards Smith’s high-profile defection, the PGA Tour scrubbed his name from its website and removed his parking spot at Sawgrass usually reserved for the Players champion.

Through it all Smith displayed dignity, humility and maturity beyond his years. He refused to denigrate the PGA Tour or his former peers. Nor did he rebuff unsavoury comments made by Hall of Famers Gary Player and Fred Couples who scoffed at his move to LIV Golf.

Finally, after a three-year absence, Smith returned home to Brisbane where he was greeted with a rock-star welcome. The 29-year-old morphed into the Pied Piper of golf as thousands of fans flocked to see golf’s new sensation at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship. Smith delivered another short-game masterclass at Royal Queensland to win the Joe Kirkwood Cup for a third time.

Five wins – Hawaii, Jacksonville, St Andrews, Chicago and Brisbane – had pundits declaring Smith was the best player in the world. Indeed, it’s Cameron Smith the golfer rather than his trademark mullet that is now an enduring topic of conversation.

Recent winners
2021: Min jee Lee
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

Cameron Smith instruction: Driving ambition

Feeling freedom off the tee helps fuel the best parts of Cam Smith’s game.

When Cameron Smith is driving the golf ball well, the Australian superstar is hard to beat. Just ask Rory McIlroy, who despite being one of the best drivers in the history of golf, was unable to match it with Smith during the final round of the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews last year. When Smith drives it well, it boosts the potency of his underrated iron play, world-beating short game and truly elite putting.

On that final day at St Andrews, when Smith overcame a four-shot deficit to McIlroy and co-leader Viktor Hovland, he hit enough fairways at a decent distance to negate a large part of the advantage McIlroy usually has over Smith and every other pro in golf. Smith hit 11 of 16 fairways with many of those surpassing 290 metres. On the par-4 fourth, Smith smashed one 300 metres down the middle. Although stats suggest Smith’s driver is still a work in progress, there is a pattern of movements Smith’s long-time coach, Grant Field, uses to ensure his star student is getting the ball out there well enough to let his assets be assets.

Smith’s natural shape

“When Cam is driving the ball well, he’s hitting a gentle left-to-right ball flight,” Field says. “He loves hitting a fade, and when he hits that fade he is accurate and carries the golf ball about 270 metres, give or take. When he’s hitting a fade he rotates better and uses the ground more effectively instead of hanging back and getting underneath, which can sometimes force him to save the swing by turning the face over.”

How does he hit it?

“Cam hits a fade because it’s his natural movement. The fade comes from Cam’s natural exit from impact being lower and more to the left. With an iron he can work a fade and a draw (right to left) because of the angle of attack. He can play both shapes with control, but he’s still moving almost the same way in terms of his body.

“When Cam is swinging the driver beautifully, he loads into the backswing properly. When his driver is offline, often it’s because his arms get a little bit out and away from him. The bodyweight then gets a little bit too far forward into the right toe rather than loading more into the heel, which then changes how his arms have to work in relation to the body. That can cause him to fall a little bit back in behind the ball. When he’s swinging well, he’s loading that trail hip. He’s getting the pressure in the right part of the foot which then allows him to move correctly on the way through.”

Choose your shape

“When I’m working with a new student, and I’m trying to figure out what shot shape best suits them, I start by helping them move athletically with what they’ve got. If a golfer moves well and hits the ball one way or the other, I’ll generally work with what they’ve got and won’t try to get them to hit an unfamiliar shot shape. When a golfer moves athletically, they tend to be close to a neutral shape anyway; they’ll move the ball one way or another in small amounts. My biggest thing is, I want a swing that has minimal to no compensations. If they move athletically, their stock shape will pick them.

“Have a look at your natural swing and be honest; everyone likes to hit a draw but does it work for you? Can you produce it easily and under whatever level of pressure? Once you’ve determined your natural shape, work with it, not against it.” – written with Evin Priest

  Getty images: Michael Reaves 

Female player of the year: Minjee Lee

Just 18 months ago Minjee Lee had pundits wondering if she would ever break through for a Major title. It came almost by accident when she chased down a seven-stroke deficit to win the 2021 Evian Championship in a playoff.

Lee’s second Major was anything but accidental as she put on a ball-striking clinic to cruise to a four-stroke victory at the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in North Carolina. She led by three shots through 54 holes and birdied the first two holes on Sunday to effectively turn the championship into a coronation.

“It’s been my dream since I was a little girl. It’s the one I always wanted to win. Now I’ve done it, it’s amazing,” Lee said.

The 26-year-old joined Jan Stephenson and Karrie Webb as the only Australians to have won the US Women’s Open. Lee collected $US1.8 million for her eighth LPGA title, which at the time was the largest prizemoney awarded in women’s golf.

By triumphing on the Donald Ross masterpiece at Pine Needles, Lee emulated the victories by Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (1996) and Webb (2001). Her 13-under 271 aggregate broke the US Women’s Open scoring record set by Sorenstam and Juli Inkster (272).

Lee had shown promising signs to start the year. She was runner-up at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, tied for third at the LA Open and won the Cognizant Founders Cup in Phoenix just three weeks prior to the US Women’s Open.

At the year’s other Majors, Lee was 12th at the Chevron Championship, runner-up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, tied 43rd at the Evian Championship in France and tied fourth at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield. Her consistency was rewarded with the Rolex Annika Major Award as the best performer at the five most prestigious events in women’s golf.

However, the 26-year-old cooled off afterwards and she let slip a golden opportunity to reach world No.1. Lee didn’t achieve another top-10 result for the year. Her form suffered after a forced withdrawal from the Canadian Open due to a positive COVID test and she finished no better than 33rd in her final seven events of the season.

As a result New Zealand’s Lydia Ko overtook Lee to win the LPGA Player of the Year. However, Lee pocketed another $US1 million for winning the LPGA’s AON Risk Reward Challenge, in addition to her season earnings of $US3.8 million to surpass Ko’s total prizemoney.

Lee was seventh in Scoring Average (69.694 strokes per round) and ninth in Strokes Gained Total. But these statistics tell only part of the story. Tee to green, Lee was in a class of her own, leading the tour at 2.810 strokes per round. Daylight was second with Lee almost a full shot clear of Major winners Brooke Henderson and In Gee Chun (1.850), among those who played 20 or more rounds.

It was on the greens where Lee struggled, finishing 158th in Strokes Gained Putting (-1.050 per round). To put that into perspective, Lydia Ko led the tour with 1.360 strokes per round. Effectively, Lee was giving up 9.6 strokes per tournament to the Kiwi.

In a game of fine margins, that opportunity wouldn’t be lost on her longtime coach Ritchie Smith. If she can iron out that relative weakness with the flatstick, Minjee Lee could be primed for an even better season in 2023. 

  Getty images: NurPhoto, Octavio Passos

Rookie player of the year: Jed Morgan

From winning a first professional title to jumping on the LIV Golf bandwagon alongside the likes Johnson, Koepka, Garcia and Mickelson, it’s fair to say Jed Morgan’s first season as a pro has been a whirlwind experience.

Having left the amateur scene in October 2021, Morgan was runner-up at the Sandbelt Invitational in December. Then, in just his fourth professional start, he coasted to an 11-stroke victory at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship. The Royal Queensland member utilised a home-course advantage to establish the largest winning margin in championship history. His 22-under par 262 was the tournament’s lowest aggregate score. And at 22, he was the youngest winner in the event’s strokeplay era.

The $180,000 prizemoney catapulted Morgan to the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit title for the 2021-2022 season. The reward was entry into the US Open at Brookline and Open Championship at St Andrews.

Morgan’s flamboyant style attracted the attention of Greg Norman and the LIV Golf chief executive officer welcomed his fellow Queenslander to the breakaway league. Morgan struggled initially but saved his best performance for last with a 13th placing at LIV Jeddah.

Recent winners
2021: Gabriela Ruffels
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

  Getty images: NurPhoto, Octavio Passos

Amateur player of the year: Harrison Crowe

From Major championship invitee to viral golf sensation, Harrison Crowe has literally become an overnight sensation. His victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship punched his ticket to Augusta and Hoylake for next year’s Masters and Open Championship.

Crowe’s fifth tournament win inside 10 months provided the peg for media outlets to replay video footage of him pulling off a trick shot outside the Dunvegan Hotel in St Andrews. Cleary inebriated and urged on by his mates, Crowe struck a 9-iron from the footpath onto the Old Course’s 18th green.

During COVID-ravaged 2021, Crowe played just seven events accredited World Amateur Golf Ranking status. In the last of those, the week prior to Christmas 2021, he successfully defended his Port Phillip Open Amateur and Victorian Amateur title.

That ignited a purple patch and Crowe went on a tear in January, winning the Australian Master of the Amateurs and NSW Amateur. Against the pros in March, he triumphed by a stroke at the NSW Open over 54 holes on a rain-soaked Concord Golf Club to become the first golfer since Jim Ferrier to complete the NSW Amateur/Open double in the same year.Crowe struggled through the northern summer. However, some choice words from Adam Scott helped him recapture his form for the Asia-Pacific Amateur at Amata Spring near Bangkok to become the third Australian winner after Antonio Murdaca (2014) and Curtis Luck (2016).

Recent winners
2021: Louis Dobbelaar
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

  Getty images: NurPhoto, Andrew Redington

Junior player of the year: Jeffrey Guan

With COVID-imposed border restrictions gone, Jeffrey Guan took his game to the world stage in 2022. The back-to-back Australian and NSW junior champion claimed six notable titles as well as delivering impressive performances against open-age amateurs and professionals.

Spanning 12 months, Guan won the NSW Junior Championship (2021), Harvey Norman ACT Week of Golf, Uniqlo/Adam Scott Junior Championship, Australian Boys’ Amateur, the Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and Adidas Golf Junior 6s Tour World Final. He was also the only Australian to participate at the Junior Presidents Cup.

Against open competition, Guan was third at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand, fourth at the Trans-Mississippi Amateur and he registered three top-10 results on the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Golf Australia high-performance manager Brad James says it’s been a phenomenal year for Guan, who is ranked 51st on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (and sixth for players aged 18 and under). “He’s won internationally. He’s performed well on different golf courses, different climates, different grasses, different competition, different countries. And for a kid at such a young age, you’ve got to put your hands together and applaud that,” James said.

Recent winners
2021: Jeffrey Guan
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

  Getty images: NurPhoto, Andrew Redington

Senior player of the year: Richard Green

In his first 30 seasons as a tour professional, Richard Green won seven tournaments, including three European Tour titles, an Australian Masters and a Vic Open. But the sweet-swinging left-hander never hoisted a trophy more than once a year.

That all changed in 2022 when Green won four times. In June, the 51-year-old won the Jersey Legends on the European Senior Tour, prevailing in a playoff against former Open champion Paul Lawrie. Five weeks later Green secured another playoff victory at the WINSTONgolf Senior Open in northern Germany. Upon return to Australia, he claimed the Australian PGA Senior Championship by a stroke at Richmond Golf Club in north-western Sydney.

Turning his attention to the PGA Tour Champions, Green would have been buoyed by the senior success of New Zealand pro Steven Alker who won the 2022 Charles Schwab Cup, the season-long points race. In November, Green attempted first stage of qualifying school for the over-50s circuit in Nevada where 75 players were competing for 17 spots. Green claimed medallist honours by a whopping 12 strokes at 21-under par.

Recent winners
2021: Rod Pampling
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 of the year: Jak Carter

Age is only a number. Jak Carter is testimony to that adage as the 29-year-old dominated the PGA Membership Pathway Program as a first-year associate from Stirling Golf Club in the Adelaide Hills.

The former concreter trounced the field to win the SA PGA Associate championship at Links Lady Bay by 15 strokes. A week later he claimed the NSW/ACT PGA Associate title at Moruya. He was also runner-up at the VIC/TAS PGA Associate tournament at Tocumwal and led the national adjusted scoring averages at 2.03 strokes under par.

Carter won first stage of the 2022-2023 PGA Tour of Australasia qualifying school and acquired a playing card with a 12th-place finish at the final stage. Then, in just his fourth tour appearance, Carter held the 54-hole lead at the Queensland PGA Championship at Nudgee Golf Club. A fairytale finish never eventuated after he found water on the 72nd hole for a double-bogey 5 to miss the playoff by one stroke.

Recent winners
2021: Lachlan Aylen
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: Grant Field

Long-distance relationships are problematical. Many don’t survive the tyranny of distance. That Cameron Smith and long-time coach Grant Field have prospered during the COVID pandemic with minimal physical contact is testament to their working relationship.

Field barely saw The Open champion in person during the past three years. But Smith’s exceptional 2022 results have vindicated their established communication routine.

The pair will speak on a Monday night as a debrief from the week before. They’ll do a range session on Tuesday when caddie Sam Pinfold focuses a camera upon Smith, who will wear headphones so as to talk through his swing with Field. Pinfold will also send swing footage to make sure everything is in sync. And post-tournament rounds, Field will analyse Smith’s play with Shot Tracker and have a conversation about what happened on certain shots.

It’s an approach borne out of necessity for Field, head coach for Golf Queensland and the Queensland Academy of Sport. Whether coaching Smith or rookie Jed Morgan, Field has shown a versatility to adapt during these unusual circumstances.

Recent winners
2021: Dominic Azzopardi
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: Lance Knox

If ever a gong was awarded for perseverance, Lance Knox would be a leading candidate. He applied for 21 positions as a turf manager in 11 years without success prior to becoming an assistant superintendent.

More rejection followed over the next three years and he almost quit the golf industry before landing the superintendent role at Busselton Golf Club. Since late 2018, Knox has transformed Busselton into one of the finest courses in Western Australia, let alone the state’s south-west region. Knox was this year’s recipient of the Excellence in Golf Course Management award from the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association.

During the past two years at Busselton, Knox’s team has completed numerous improvement projects. They constructed a new bentgrass nursery, upgraded the existing maintenance facility, reconstructed green complexes and redesigned greenside bunkers.

Apart from course enhancements, Knox has ensured the club adheres to strict guidelines with its water usage from Busselton Wastewater Treatment plant, which supplies about 90 per cent of the course’s irrigation. That entails environmental reports with compliancy on nutrient-loading rates of nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, Knox has improved water efficiency on tees, fairways and green surrounds by fixing irrigation nozzles, sprinkler heads and rectifying a dosing pump that hadn’t been installed correctly.

“Lance has turned the club around immensely with his passion and dedication to his work and staff,” says Shane Baker, president of GCSAWA. “I regularly use Lance as an example when talking to apprentices about doing what it takes to get ahead in the industry. Lance moved away from his home and job to the country twice to gain valuable experience and he says he wouldn’t be where he is now without taking those risks.”

Recent winners
2021: Craig Molloy (Cypress Lakes)
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: Sandy Jamieson

Actions speak louder than words. For public-golf advocate Sandy Jamieson that meant actively trying to remedy an alarming 20-year decline in the game’s participation numbers in Australia.

In 2019, in what he describes as a “mid-life crisis”, Jamieson quit a cushy job as head teaching professional at Commonwealth Golf Club to manage the council-owned Oakleigh Public Golf Course in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. He would open the shop half an hour before sunrise and teach lessons in the afternoon.

“Most people thought I got the sack,” says the 27-year PGA professional, a former coach of Jarrod Lyle, Robert Allenby and Peter Fowler.

“I saw golf was in trouble… I wanted to be in the industry for a long time so I knew I had to go out and create more customers.

“Pre-pandemic, I was seeing player numbers had dropped right off. I saw private golf clubs without full memberships. I went and checked out public golf courses. And the ones that used to be full with kids, they were empty. So I thought, How did I learn how to play golf? And I learnt with just one club.”

Introduced to golf at the age of 9 by his father, Ian, who gave him a cut-down 5-iron, Jamieson would hit balls on the school oval and used to jump the fence to play at Box Hill Golf Club. It took a bit longer than a year to progress to a full set of clubs, gradually adding one at a time.

Four decades later, Jamieson launched 1Club Golf (1club.golf) with the intention of bringing newcomers to the game. “So 1Club Golf is as it sounds. It’s golf with one club. It’s my answer to [create more customers].”

Participants are given the ‘smart club’ – a custom-made iron with a flat edge on top of the grip on which to place the thumbs. The clubface has a circle in the middle to show the ideal spot to strike the ball.

Rather than taking five lessons in a beginner clinic before setting foot on a golf course, Jamieson believes his method of ‘golf orientation’ yields better results. Allow people to learn rather than stand there telling them what to do.

“I say that I’ll take someone who’s never played golf before and I’ll have them on the golf course in 15 minutes. And they’ll be a good golfer in an hour. After an hour everybody’s got the skills to get around a golf course. I define a good golfer as being safe, playing at the right speed, knowing their skill level and looking after the golf course.”

Initially, Jamieson set out to create five new golfers a week. However he achieved closer to 10 and they were averaging 1.8 rounds per week. Through 1Club Golf, he has created more than 1,000 new golfers and the vast majority are regular golfers.

In the six months prior to COVID, Jamieson increased player rounds as well as revenue at Oakleigh by 50 per cent. But in somewhat of an irony, participation numbers increased during COVID as people sought refuge on a golf course away from mask-wearing, social-distancing restrictions. That slowed the momentum of 1Club Golf.

Nevertheless, Jamieson has been a one-man infusion for the golf industry. Based on his client base, the average female who tried 1Club Golf has spent $1,400 on her first set of equipment in the first eight months. The average male has spent $1,800 on gear.

With regard to attracting new golfers, Jamieson gets frustrated that people portray golf as a difficult game. On the contrary, he says it’s probably the easiest game to learn how to play because you’re not reliant on the skill of other people to get around: “It’s just about empowering people to use the golf course.” 

Recent winners
2021: David Greenhill
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