The prizemoney was small, but the stage was huge as the Australian Open pulled off the historic first of running a men’s and women’s national championship simultaneously on the same courses. And the payoff for Adrian Meronk’s victory in men’s tournament will be far more valuable than the $306,000 he bagged for defeating local hero Adam Scott in an exciting finish on Melbourne’s famed Sandbelt.
Meronk secured his second DP World Tour victory of the year when he overcame a one-shot deficit to former world No.1 Scott – Meronk’s final-group playing partner and “childhood idol” – with a four-under 66 on the final day at Victoria Golf Club. The native of Poland sealed the deal with an eagle from off the green at the par-5 18th, and at 14 under, he won by five over Scott (72).
DP World Tour winner Min Woo Lee was third at eight under, and he joined fellow West Australian Haydn Barron and Spain’s Alejandro Canizares (both T-4, seven under) in securing starts in next year’s 151st Open Championship via the Open qualifying series this week.
Meronk said outplaying former Masters winner Scott on home soil was a dream come true.
“To be honest, I really wanted to play with [Scott],” Meronk said. “He was always my role model growing up. To beat him in a final group in front of the big crowds in Australia, it was just an unbelievable experience.”
Scott wrestled back a share of the lead mid-way through the back nine but failed to birdie the short par-4 15th while Meronk did and he never looked back. Without his A-game, Scott was no match for the big-hitting Meronk, who blasted his way through the strategic Victoria layout with driver on nearly every hole. “He’s a big guy with a lot of speed, and in today’s game that seems to be the recipe you need,” Scott said.
The prize money Meronk secured Sunday at the Australian Open pales in comparison the $US1 million the 29-year-old banked for his breakthrough victory at the Irish Open in July. But the benefits for winning the DP World Tour-sanctioned Australian Open will be felt well into 2023.
Meronk’s victory has him projected to rise eight places to 48th on the Official World Golf Ranking, where he should remain for the December 31 cut-off for Augusta National’s first wave of invitations. In fact, Meronk said earning a Masters debut was a lure to make the journey down to Australia after a long season that finished with a T-7 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last month. He flew straight from Dubai to Brisbane, where he finished T-34 at last week’s Australian PGA Championship, another DP World Tour co-sanctioned event.
“[The Masters] was definitely on my mind coming to these two weeks to Australia to improve my ranking and I think that should be enough going forward,” Meronk said. “I’ll just wait until [Monday] when the ranking comes out, but I think it gives me a good chance to be inside that inside that top 50. To play the Masters will be an unreal feeling.”
Meronk has played just two Majors in his career, the 2021 US Open and the 150th Open at St Andrews this year. But at 6-fooft-6 and with an average drive of 310 yards on the DP World Tour, he feels he can compete on golf’s biggest stage. “I’ve been playing some really good golf,” he said. “I think if I can keep it going I can compete on any level, even majors and I can win the best tournaments in the world.”
Then there’s the Ryder Cup. Meronk earned 1,500 European points for the Australian Open win. He has previously expressed his dream to line up for captain Luke Donald’s European team at next year’s Ryder Cup in Italy, where he’d be the first Polish golfer to play in a Ryder Cup. He’s used to that title, having become the first player from Poland to win on the Challenge Tour, to secure a DP World Tour card, to play in a major and to feature in the Olympics. But lining up for Europe at a Ryder Cup in Rome would top them all.
“I know [Rome 2023] is a long way to go, but if I keep playing like that, I think I should still make the team and that would be dream come true for me,” he said.
Meronk’s win was set against the narrative of the 10th oldest golf tournament in the world pulling off a world’s first in becoming the first national open to host its men’s and women’s championships at the same time – and for the same prizemoney. It wasn’t all smooth sailing – five-hour rounds were common this week as tournament organisers scrambled to pack in both genders and the Australian All Abilities Championship, at Victoria and Kingston Heath for the first two rounds and then just Victoria on the weekend. There were 149 players on Saturday, and then a 54-hole cut was made to the top 30 and ties for Sunday’s final round. But the sentiment was well-received by fans; they got to watch alternating men’s and women’s groups all week. Minjee Lee, Hannah Green, Ashleigh Buhai, Marina Alex and Jennifer Kupcho were just some of the names in the women’s field.
In the group proceeding Scott, Lee and Meronk coming up the 18th hole, reigning Women’s British Open champion Buhai (73, 12 under) defeated two-time Women’s British Open winner Jiyai Shin by one shot (75, 11-under). LPGA Tour star Green (74) was third at 10 under. Buhai joined seven-time Major winner Karrie Webb (2002) and Yani Tseng (2010 and 2011) as the only women to complete the British-Australian double in the same year.
“It’s the cherry on the top I guess” Buhai, 33, said of her breakthrough season in which she claimed her first LPGA and Major titles.
Buhai had her husband, Dave, on the bag this week. He was shown on the broadcast at Muirfield in August as a nervous wreck, drinking beers and celebrating her every shot. This week, though, he was a calming influence.
“He just kept me calm,” Buhai said. “We walked off 16 and I think by then I was tied for the lead and he said, ‘Well, whatever happens now, I want you to commit to every shot, no matter what the outcome is – that’s all you can do.’ That’s what got me the job done at the British this year and that’s all I tried to focus on all day.”