Chasin’ Jason

Jason Day makes it back-to-back Australian Golf Digest Player of the Year Awards
after chalking up three big victories and ruling the world of golf.

Heaven help the world’s best golfers if Jason Day has an injury-free season given his current purple patch of form.

Day’s preparation and tournament appearances were hampered by a recurring back injury in 2016. That the 29-year-old Queenslander won three top-shelf tournaments and held the world No.1 ranking for most of the year speaks volumes of his character.

After a slow start to the year, Day won back-to-back tournaments in late March. He led from start to finish to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida. However, he needed a little bit of magic to save par from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole. It will be a victory he shall cherish forever as the last golfer to salute the King before his passing.

At the Dell Match Play, Day struggled with a bad back and flu-like symptoms that saw him lose five kilograms during the week of the World Golf Championships event. Yet Day was last man standing on Sunday for the second time in three years. He won all seven of his matches in Austin, Texas, where Rory McIlroy was the only opponent to take him to the 18th hole.

As favourite entering the Masters Tournament, Day was clearly affected by his health and failed to break 70 as he tied for 10th behind Danny Willett. He bounced back at the Players Championship five weeks later, opening with 63-66 to spreadeagle the field en route to claiming the richest prize in professional golf by four strokes.

At the year’s remaining Majors, Day tied for eighth at the US Open, tied 22nd at the British Open and finished outright second in the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol where he eagled the 72nd hole to fall one stroke shy of Jimmy Walker.

More back pain forced Day to withdraw from the final two events of the season. And the strained ligament in his lower right back prevented a return home to play the Australian Open and World Cup as he opted for rehabilitation.

But it would have given him time to reflect upon a brilliant year. From 20 appearances on the US PGA Tour, Day had three victories, 10 finishes in the top-10 and 16 in the top-25 placegetters to reap $US8,045,112.

Recent Winners

2015: Jason Day
2014: Adam Scott
2013: Adam Scott
2012: Adam Scott
2011: Adam Scott

Female Player of the Year

Minjee Lee

Minjee Lee

It was always going to be interesting to see if Minjee Lee could match her astonishing rookie season on the LPGA Tour. But rather than fall victim to the second-year blues, Lee raised the bar a notch and rewrote the record books.

She created LPGA Tour history in March as the second person to score a hole-in-one on a par 4. Lee aced the 16th at Aviara Golf Club – with a 5-wood from 234 yards – in the third round of the Kia Classic (just two months after Ha Na Jang’s 218-yard albatross in The Bahamas).

Lee captured her second LPGA Tour title in April at the Lotte Championship on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. She fired a blistering final round of 8-under 64 to become the fifth player in LPGA history to win twice before her 20th birthday, joining Marlene Hagge, Sandra Haynie, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko.

In Brazil, Lee witnessed the reintroduction of women’s golf’s to the Olympics after a 116-year absence. After tieing for seventh in Rio, she finished equal second at the Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada.

Then in a sign of growing maturity, Lee produced a wire-to-wire victory at the Blue Bay LPGA on China’s Hainan Island where she repelled a challenge from the world’s hottest golfer, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn.

Lee won twice – and should probably have won four times – as she accumulated $US1,213,902 to finish 12th on the LPGA moneylist.

The big improvement came with the flatstick. Lee ranked fifth in Putts per Green In Regulation compared to 23rd in 2015. That helped her shoot 41 rounds in the 60s (compared to 31) while her scoring average improved to 70.42 (from 70.88).

Recent Winners

2015: Minjee Lee
2014: Karrie Webb
2013: Karrie Webb
2012: Stacey Keating
2011: Karrie Webb

Amateur Player of the Year

Curtis Luck

Curtis Luck

Gregarious, self-assured and with a penchant for growing and admirin’ beards. Curtis Luck is the type of character that golf craves. And he can play golf, too.

In an extraordinary year, the hirsute 20-year-old from Perth:

• Triumphed at the WA Open to become the third amateur winner in 25 years;

• Tied for fifth to be low amateur at the ISPS Handa Global Cup on the Japan Golf Tour;

• Won the United States Amateur Championship, demolishing Brad Dalke 6&4 in the final at Oakland Hills to earn invitations to the Masters, US Open and British Open;

• Helped Australia claim its fourth Eisenhower Trophy in Mexico where he combined with Cameron Davis and Harrison Endycott to win the World Amateur Teams Championship by an astonishing 19 strokes;

• Willed himself to victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Korea where he overhauled a seven-stroke deficit on the final day to beat countryman Brett Coletta by a shot.

“I think it is the greatest stand-alone amateur season from anyone in the history of Australian golf,” says Golf Australia’s high-performance director Brad James. “To accomplish what he’s accomplished – not only at the amateur level but also the professional level – it’s a standout season.”

Luck likes to do things his own way and has enjoyed incredible success with a unique swing. But he also possesses that special X Factor.

“He’s got aspects of the game that you can’t teach. He’s got that hunger to win and that fearless attitude,” adds James. “He’s a very hard worker, he’s very detailed at what he does.”

It’s too early to predict what Luck may achieve once he turns professional. Countless pros have failed to deliver on expectations after stellar amateur careers.

But it will be fascinating to follow Luck’s progress in years to come.

Recent Winners

2015: Ryan Ruffels
2014: Minjee Lee
2013: Oliver Goss
2012: Breanna Elliott
2011: Bryden Macpherson

Rookie of the Year

Su Oh

Su Oh

She arrived in Melbourne from Korea at age 8. She made headlines competing in the Women’s Australian Open as a 12-year-old. And she became the world’s No.1 ranked women’s amateur at 17.

So it wasn’t a surprise Su Oh made a fast start to her professional career in February 2015. She was runner-up in her first tournament at the Oates Victorian Open and then won the following week’s RACV Ladies Masters at Royal Pines to earn a Ladies European Tour card.

However by year’s end, Oh was in a funk. She had collapsed to finish 32nd at the LPGA Tour’s final qualifying tournament to miss out on a full playing card. And she was getting mixed messages from three different coaches: Denis McDade, a Leadbetter disciple in America and her father.

The confusion was apparent during a social round with former touring pro Mike Clayton and Golf Australia’s high-performance director Brad James. They told Oh that if her game came together, she could represent Australia at the Rio Olympics alongside Minjee Lee. Oh scoffed at the suggestion, alluding to the fact she was ranked outside the world’s top-200 players while Karrie Webb was entrenched in the top 30.

The conversation did allow a few home truths to emerge. And it did lead to an offer to set up a meeting with Cameron McCormick, the Dallas-based teacher of Jordan Spieth. McCormick, originally from Melbourne, took over as Oh’s coach this year and taught her how to practise more effectively and refine her skills to shoot lower scores.

It paid off at the LPGA Tour’s Kingsmill Championship in May when Oh finished outright second behind Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn. Then with a tie for eighth at the Women’s PGA Championship (her first top-10 in a Major), Oh broke into the world’s top 40 and snatched Webb’s Olympic spot.

After what seemed a long shot last summer, Oh proudly represented her adopted country in Rio where she tied for 13th. Now fully exempt on the LPGA Tour, the 20-year-old is no longer confused.

Recent Winners

2015: Minjee Lee
2014: Cameron Smith
2013: Matt Stieger
2012: Julia Boland
2011: Stacey Keating

Senior Player of the Year

Peter Fowler

Peter Fowler

At the age of 57, Peter Fowler continues to defy Father Time in his perpetual pursuit of perfection. In his 40th season as a professional, the short-game wizard remained one of the dominant forces on the European Senior Tour.

While he didn’t add to his five victories there, Fowler was a model of consistency. He had six top-10 results from 11 events to sit fourth on the moneylist with one event remaining.

Fowler was twice one stroke shy of the winner. He tied for second behind Paul Eales in the Prostate Cancer UK Scottish Senior Open and tied for third behind Andrew Oldcorn in the WINSTONgolf Senior Open in Germany. Outside Europe, Fowler carded a career-best 11-under 61 in the final round to win the ISPS Handa Cup Philanthropy Senior Tournament in Japan.

Since undergoing career-threatening back surgery in 2009, Fowler has amassed 1.25 million euros in eight seasons on the Senior Tour. To put that into perspective, he earned 3.26 million Euros over 26 years on the European Tour.

Recent Winners

2015: Peter Fowler
2014: Peter Fowler
2013: Peter Senior
2012: Peter Senior
2011: Peter Fowler

Trainee Player of the Year

Brody Martin

Brody Martin

Giving up alcohol paid handsome dividends for Brody Martin in 2016. The trainee from Marangaroo Golf Club in Perth’s northern suburbs captured two of the major events for apprentices.

Martin won the Rich River Trainee Classic and Southern Trainee Championship during a year when he topped the scoring average for aspiring pros. He was also runner-up in the WA/SA championship and collected five victories in one-dayers in a consistent season.

“Brody has worked incredibly hard on his playing over the last three years in the program and it appears this year that everything has fallen into place,” says PGA of Australia training manager Stephanie Jamieson.

“Brody repeatedly showed his form under the pressure of four-round tournaments, which has seen him place top of the 2016 Titleist FootJoy Performance Rankings on an adjusted average of -1.53.”

Recent Winners

2015: Deyen Lawson
2014: Taylor Cooper
2013: Jack Wilson
2012: Quinton Howe
2011: Paul Hayden

Junior Player of the Year

Min Woo Lee

Min Woo Lee

When asked to make a comparison with his successful older sister, Min Woo Lee has said: “If you drew a line for our development, Minjee’s would be a straight line and mine would be a squiggle.”

Talent can only take you so far. And for Min Woo Lee it had carried him off the couch to win the WA Amateur and Aaron Baddeley International Junior Championship in 2015.

But structure is what the Perth teenager lacked.

That all changed in April following a fortuitous encounter with Tiger Woods during the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club in South Carolina. Lee was bombing driver after driver on the range when the 14-time Major winner wandered over and asked what he was practising.

Lee replied that he was just hitting driver.

“That’s stupid,” said Tiger.

As two dozen juniors began milling around, Woods preceded to explain his practice philosophy and how Lee must be more specific rather than simply bashing balls: aim at a tree and learn to draw and fade the ball off it.

The target training left an impression. “It just made me a better player from the day after he told me. That was like an eye-opener,” says Lee, who closed with a 67 to finish runner-up at Sage Valley.

Three months later he would emulate Woods by winning the United States Junior Amateur Championship, overcoming Noah Goodwin 2&1 in the final at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tennessee.

The victory followed Minjee’s triumph in the 2012 US Girls’ Junior, making them the first brother and sister to win USGA junior titles.

Now, Min Woo’s development is starting to resemble a straight line.

Recent Winners

2015: Ryan Ruffels
2014: Ryan Ruffels
2013: Su Oh
2012: Minjee Lee
2011: Minjee Lee

Superintendent of the Year

Mick McCombe

Mick McCombe

When Mick McCombe arrived at Maleny Golf Club there was no maintenance shed, no greens mower and not even a bunker rake. Actually, the first nine holes were still several months away from opening.

Five months earlier the club had been granted final approval to construct a golf course in the dairy farming township of Maleny in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, about 450 metres above sea level. Course architect Graham Papworth had designed an 18-hole layout on the undulating parcel of land characterised by well-draining volcanic red soil.

The club appointed McCombe as course superintendent a month before they were due to stolonize the first greens. His role was to oversee the grow-in of the greens, turf the tees and shape/groom the fairways from the sprawling weed-infested kikuyu paddocks.

Initially at McCombe’s disposal were an old Fiat two-wheel drive tractor with a slasher and flail mower, an old six-foot rough mower and an antique five-reel fairway mower.

To compound the situation, most greens needed to be completely deconstructed and/or reshaped because of errors by volunteer engineers and contractors during the initial construction phase. And later, Cyclone Marcia caused significant washouts across the course.

Originally from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, McCombe relished the challenges. He transformed the course by motivating an eclectic army of volunteers and training his lone apprentice Marc Kearney.

The subsequent opening of the first nine holes in June 2015 has been remarkable. The greens were constructed to Papworth’s specifications despite budget, equipment and labour constraints.

“In the 19 months since Mick was recruited to a construction site, we now have the first nine holes of a first-class community golf course, which is being favourably commented on by members, visitors and the media,” says Maleny president Max Whitten.

Recent Winners

2015: Simon Bourne
2014: Shaun Cross
2013: Michael Bradbery
2012: Ben Tilley
2011: Richard Forsyth

Coach of the Year

Dean Kinney

Dean Kinney

Despite boasting the largest playing numbers and leading junior program in Australia, New South Wales has underperformed in terms of producing world-class golfers.

That’s a concern when NSW makes up 40 per cent of club members in Australia and Jack Newton Junior Golf is widely recognised as the best system for developing young golfers.

A lot of talented NSW amateurs have struggled to make the transition to professional golf. Steve Elkington, Brett Ogle, Peter Lonard, Andre Stolz and Nathan Green are exceptions, having won on the US PGA Tour in the past 30 years.

NSW had been the least receptive state when it came to adopting a holistic approach to golf-specific development of elite amateurs. But it’s now on track following the appointment of Dean Kinney as state coach.

Under Kinney, NSW reclaimed the Australian Men’s Interstate Teams Matches for the first time since 2012. It shared the Boys’ Interstate series with South Australia while NSW won back the Australian Girls’ title for the first time since 2010.

NSW also provided two of the three amateurs – Cameron Davis and Harrison Endycott – that propelled Australia to a resounding victory at the recent World Amateur Teams Championship in Mexico.

Kinney, a former touring pro, has integrated the coaches and service providers into the NSW program. His greatest attributes are communication skills and a desire to see players get better, says Golf Australia’s high-performance director Brad James.

“What Dean brings to the table is the ability to bring the team together and everyone on board trying to accomplish the same goals. He sold that well to the teams, the players, the service providers and Golf NSW. I think the fruit of his strength is coming to the fore now.”

Recent Winners

2015: Cameron McCormick
2014: Ritchie Smith
2013: Brad Malone
2012: Denis McDade
2011: Col Swatton

Club Achievement of the Year

Curlewis Golf Club

Curlewis Golf Club

Just 20 months ago Curlewis Golf Club was about to shut its doors. It was on the brink of bankruptcy after a failed investment in a water treatment plant left the club trading insolvent for several days.

In stepped David and Lyndsay Sharp [above] , regarded as patron saints of Bellarine Peninsula tourism for transforming the region into a gourmet’s delight via their Leura Park Estate and Jack Rabbit wineries plus Flying Brick cidery. Not only did the Sharps rescue Curlewis, they breathed new life into a club whose course is regarded as one of Victoria’s hidden gems, situated 15 minutes from Geelong.

The Sharps recognised its potential and commissioned Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead to make some design changes. Improvements were also made to the irrigation system for better turf quality, which had long been a criticism of the course.

Adopting the motto ‘Contemporary and forward thinking’, Curlewis undertook a range of initiatives to create an inviting atmosphere. They relaxed dress rules, such as the insistence of wearing a collared shirt in the clubhouse.

Coaching clinics were conducted for women on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Free clinics were held for juniors on Friday afternoons. And for just $295, learners would receive two semesters of bi-weekly clinics with promised access to the golf course.

Curlewis is now flourishing, acquiring up to 200 members since the takeover. In recognition of its progress, Curlewis Golf Club is Australian Golf Digest’s inaugural winner of Club Achievement of the Year.

Services to Golf

Duncan Andrews

Duncan Andrews

It was literally by sheer chance that Duncan Andrews happened to become involved in golf-course development. In 1993 he was driving along the Mornington Peninsula with his wife when he popped in to inspect The Dunes, an unremarkable golf course owned by a local butcher who had gone bust.

The rolling countryside reminded Andrews of his golf experiences in Scotland and Ireland. He sensed he could make something special from the undulating terrain. But he wondered whether Australians would like it.

With the nation still recovering from a recession, Andrews paid $1.23 million for the course at auction. “Lloyd Williams could have bought it but he didn’t,” reflects Andrews upon his audacity to snare the property from under the nose of the five-times Melbourne Cup winning owner.

And so began a love affair with golf-course development for the 68-year-old who made his name founding the financial services company Australian Ratings, which later became Standard & Poor’s Australia.

Andrews commissioned Melbourne course architect Tony Cashmore to redesign The Dunes. It was an instant hit and has been the catalyst for a renaissance of links golf in Australia.

Then in 1999, Andrews invested in a 36-hole residential golf development at Thirteenth Beach on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula. Featuring layouts by Cashmore and Sir Nick Faldo, Thirteenth Beach has been a resounding commercial success and set a benchmark for building golf communities.

Andrews never intended to get involved with another golf project. But three years ago, architecture buff and Australian Golf Digest columnist Darius Oliver kept bugging him about a potential site on King Island off Tasmania’s north-west coast.

Upon inspection, Andrews knew he had to build what has become one of the world’s most talked-about seaside courses. Cape Wickham, co-designed by Mike DeVries and Oliver, rocketed to No.24 on Golf Digest’s ranking of the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

All told, he has outlayed approximately $35 million on the three projects from course construction to clubhouse expansion. So has it been worth it?

“Of course it has. I’ve enjoyed it. You make your own decisions and you live by them. I’ve put a lot of work into Wickham in the last two years simply because I’ve wanted to try and make it something decent. It’s a decent sort of legacy, so to speak.” 

Highlights from the 2016 Player of the Year Awards

NICK O’Hern thrilled the audience with tales from his time on tour when he beat Tiger Woods twice. Amateur sensation Curtis Luck revealed his dreams to be world No.1. Junior superstar Min Woo Lee admitted his big sister, Minjee, was the hardest worker in the family. And the Benjamin Button of golf, Peter Fowler, showed everyone why he’s still cashing cheques at 57 after winning the par-3 shootout under lights with a laser wedge to three feet.

All in a night’s work at the 2016 Australian Golf Digest Player of the Year Awards at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground. “The Brownlow Medal of  golf” is planning even bigger things for its 2017 event.

European Senior Tour star Peter Fowler in full swing at the Australian Golf Digest Player of the Year Awards, held at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground.
European Senior Tour star Peter Fowler in full swing at the Australian Golf Digest Player of the Year Awards, held at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground.
Golf Australia’s Martin Blake with Australian Golf Media Association honorary secretary, George Begg.
Golf Australia’s Martin Blake with Australian Golf Media Association honorary secretary, George Begg.


Aussie great Nick O’Hern entertains the audience with stories from his time on the US PGA Tour.
Aussie great Nick O’Hern entertains the audience with stories from his time on the US PGA Tour.
2016 Amateur Player of the Year Curtis Luck with Australian Golf Digest Editor-in-Chief Brad Clifton.
2016 Amateur Player of the Year Curtis Luck with Australian Golf Digest Editor-in-Chief Brad Clifton.
2016 Junior Player of the Year, Min Woo Lee.
2016 Junior Player of the Year, Min Woo Lee.
(From left) Kathie Shearer, Olivia McMillan and Natalie Faulkner all smiles on the SCG.
(From left) Kathie Shearer, Olivia McMillan and Natalie Faulkner all smiles on the SCG.