WE KICKED so many goals as a golfing nation this year.
Where do I start? I suppose at the very top. I can’t tell you how special it is to have the world No.1 and No.6 in Jason Day and Adam Scott. To top it off, both had great starts to the US PGA Tour season, with Adam winning twice and Jason notching three victories.
Then we’ve got some youngsters I had the pleasure of spending a few weeks with in Rio – Minjee Lee and Su Hyun-Oh [below]. These incredibly talented women are both plying their trade so well on the LPGA Tour, trying to fill the shoes of the great Karrie Webb. And Minjee is performing particularly well, capturing her third LPGA Tour title in October.
I was so excited to see Curtis Luck win the US Amateur and the Asia Pacific Amateur, and the Aussie team claiming the World Amateur Team Championship by 19 shots was right up there, too. But just when I thought the year was winding down, Brett Coletta won the Queensland Open as an amateur – something that hasn’t been done since Stuart Appleby in 1991.
It’s hard to name a particular highlight of 2016, but I think Marcus Fraser becoming the Olympic course-record holder stands out for me. I said to him in Rio, “Marcus, you’re going to go home and the whole sporting public is going to know you as the Olympic course-record holder who finished fifth for Australia. Do you know what an achievement that is?”
As the captain, to see our men’s and women’s teams perform so admirably was emotional. Golf’s return to the Olympics was so was far above my expectations – I had a great time with both teams and it really was an unbelievable three weeks in my life.
Our elite crop of golfers are performing so well at every level. When you consider Min Woo Lee became the first Aussie to win the US Junior Amateur, we’ve got every tier covered – at least at the very elite level.
But it was somewhat disappointing to see our golfers who aren’t ranked at the top of their categories not have their best seasons. It’d be nice to see our support cast play some better golf in 2017. For a country with two male golfers in the world’s top 10, we only have three in the top 50 and four in the top 100. Because I know how talented those golfers outside the top 100 are – both men and women – my expectations for them are higher than perhaps is fair. And it is tougher now to scale the world rankings because the depth of our sport is the best it’s ever been. The standard of golf is incredible. There are so many good players coming out of Korea, China, Thailand, for example, that it really has become a world game. The percentage of foreign players on the US PGA Tour is the highest it’s ever been.
Having said that, we had Greg Chalmers earn his first ever US PGA Tour victory after 18 years on tour, and it was so great and emotional to see Aaron Baddeley win for the first time in five years – that was really emotional for Badds. I got to speak to both of them straight after their wins and it was amazing to see how much those victories meant to each of them. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see Cam Smith, Nathan Holman and even Curtis Luck climb up the world rankings.
A big part of this success is due to the elite program here in Australia [see page 52). We’ve been at the forefront of development for more than 20 years, since the days of Steve Bann, Dale Lynch, Ross Herbert and Vern McMillan others. We led the way – Appleby, Allenby and Ogilvy – they were so far ahead with their golf training. I think Australia’s model is as good as it gets.
A lot of other countries are looking at us and our training techniques; admiring the way we nurture the best players.
Aussie golf looks to have an extremely bright future.