With a new season comes new hope, and for the players teeing it up in the Victorian PGA Championship at Moonah Links on the Mornington Peninsula from today, there is a sense of optimism.
Matt Griffin is a perfect example. The three-time ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia winner and order of merit winner has had his past two years virtually destroyed by the pandemic. He played just seven tournaments in Japan this year because of the quarantine restrictions both there and at home. At one point last year he was on the Federal Government’s JobKeeper supplement and reliant upon his wife Liz’ salary to care for a family that includes an infant son.
But the 38-year-old Griffin will play the full season at home before returning to his regular gig on the Japanese Tour about April next year, with 17 events to make enough money to find the top 65 and keep his playing card. By then, he hopes to have another Australasian order of merit title which carries invitations to some of the biggest tournaments in the world. There are 14 events on the summer schedule beginning this week and that does not include the Vic Open and NSW Open, which are in planning but don’t have finalised dates yet.
Griffin’s had enough of the inactivity; misses the rhythm of competitive golf.
“It’s been tough,” Griffin said yesterday. “I went into COVID playing the best golf of my career, and you’ve essentially stopped for two years. From that perspective it’s been a really big hit. I’ve been fortunate with my wife working that we’re fine in that regard, but I really feel for the younger players, because they’ve just started and they’ve been stopped straight away. I think it’s more difficult for them.
“I mean, you’ll look back at the end of your career and say ‘you’ve had two of your best years taken away’ which is a bit hard to take. But I think you have a refresher and then go again, and with [son] Jack at home being two-and-a-half, that’s been nice to spend that time with him.”
Jack Griffin watched his father play for one of the first times at his original golfing home at Cheltenham in the Melbourne Sandbelt recently, seeing him chip in immediately, and then putting off the green.
“He saw a bit of everything,” said proud father Matt. “He is [playing] one-handed now and he’s starting to show interest. When I saw him yesterday he said: ‘How was golf, Daddy?’ He loves golf clubs. He’s got one at home and he’s always got it. That’s really cool.”
There are 92 professionals in the field this week with the same aspirations, not to mention 86 amateurs who will play in teams with a pro as part of this event. Eight teams will advance to Sunday’s final round while the pros have their own individual event with a prize pool of $137,500. Both Moonah Links courses – the tough Open course which has hosted two Australian Opens and the gentler Legends course – are in use this week, starting out on Ross Perrett’s brilliant, linksy Legends today and tomorrow.
Past winners of an event that dates to 1922 include Peter Thomson, Ossie Pickworth, Kel Nagle, Rodger Davis, Peter Senior, Stuart Appleby and Marc Leishman.
As for Griffin, he hopes that it keeps blowing like it was yesterday, a stiff, 30km/h southerly.
“It’s a good, strong track,” he said. “It’s still long. The holes that play into the wind play really long. I think we’re going to get a bit of wind for the four days which will test everyone out, but I’d much rather that than not. I like a bit of wind. It plays into having more experience and controlling the ball flight.”
PHOTO: Kat Lambert
VIC PGA TV TIMES*
Round 3: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 2pm – 5pm)
Round 4: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 12pm – 5pm)
*AEDT, check local guides