The Australian Golf Club owns a little history when it comes to producing repeat winners and serial contenders in the 21 Australian Opens it has hosted prior to this week.
As well as redesigning the layout, Jack Nicklaus won our national championship three times at the esteemed Sydney club and Matt Jones has triumphed here twice, while a litany of ‘repeat contenders’ have adorned Australian Open leaderboards in Kensington.
Such a trend indicates that certain players – and certain golf skillsets – feel at ease around the course.
Count Cam Davis among them. The Sydneysider who claimed the 2017 championship at The Australian as a 22-year-old is happily back in his hometown. While opting for the convenience of a hotel room in the city rather than a bed in his childhood suburb of Frenchs Forest – “I don’t need to battle that traffic every day” – he is feeling the comforts of home all the same.
“It’s so fun coming back here, being able to see the places where I hit some shots that were really crucial during that [final] round [in 2017],” Davis said this morning. “It’s also just a lot of fun because it’s a home game for me. This is as close as I’m ever going to play to home, growing up about 30 minutes north of here. So friends and family are going to be here. It’s a lot of fun. I love coming back home.”
Davis, who opened with a 63 and closed with a 64 to beat Jones and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt by a shot in winning six years ago, acknowledges the role that week played in his career.
“This place really kick-started my whole professional career,” he said this morning. “I would say this is the place that helped me get on the PGA Tour, basically. I think without the week that I had here, the pathway would have been very different for me.”
Davis is far from the same golfer he was in 2017, nor is he the same person. He’s now 28, married, settled in Seattle with his American wife, Jonika, and is now ensconced on the PGA Tour as a one-time winner and a top-50 player on the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I feel like I’m definitely a better player,” he says. “Whether or not I’m going to have two unbelievable best rounds of the year like I did last time, it remains to be seen. But I think in terms of consistency, right now I’m probably in the middle of the best run of golf I think I’ve ever played in terms of week after week.”
Registering more wins is the next step. Davis captured the Rocket Mortgage Classic on the PGA Tour in mid-2021 but hasn’t cradled a trophy since (unless you count last December’s Sandbelt Invitational).
“I’m starting to get myself in contention a lot more,” he said. “I think the more you’re there, obviously the more comfortable you get and the more normal the level of golf that you play to get into that position, the more normal it seems to feel.”
Davis’ enviable high ball flight serves him well at ‘The Aus’ but equally that same trait can become a liability in strong winds.
The difference this week, of course, is that Davis and co. need to decipher two layouts this time, as everyone in the field will play The Lakes for one round on either Thursday or Friday. Wind is synonymous with playing The Lakes in particular, so control will be crucial, Davis says.
“I feel like it’s always really windy here,” he said of the twin examinations. “I feel like I’m a pretty good wind player in terms of shaping the ball around and judging wind conditions. That’s going to be a huge thing out here, because the greens are a little harder to hold, especially downwind [where] I feel like I’ve got a good high ball. Into the wind, I feel like I’ve got a good low ball as well. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point in my career now where I’ve managed to get better control of all the shots.”
Then there’s the different grass types. Unlike Victoria and Kingston Heath in Melbourne a year ago, The Australian and The Lakes feature different strains of grass on their fairways – couch and kikuyu, respectively.
“It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment over the first couple of days getting used to the two different grass types, but it’s the same grass that I grew up on,” Davis says. “All the northern beaches courses are kikuyu, so I’m just going to have to go back to some memories of playing golf here growing up to remember all the different shots that you have to play.”
So this ISPS Handa Australian Open is feeling the same yet different, which is fine by Davis. He just wants to recapture the magic.
“At this point in time, I just want to keep getting myself into contention but then have that really good final round that gets me over the line,” he said. “So I feel like doing what I’m doing right now and just a little adjustment of maybe making a couple more putts, which is sometimes out of your hands, if that goes my way, then hopefully it starts leading to trophies.”
Possibly as soon as this weekend. Again.
FULL AUSTRALIAN OPEN COVERAGE HERE