Another year, another Women’s Australian Open to look forward to.
Somebody asked me the other day how many Aussie Opens I’ve played in… and I really had to think about it. You never forget your first – 1994 was the year I made my professional debut, and it just so happened to be the year I made my first Aussie Open appearance, an event won by Annika Sorenstam, her first professional title. I didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be seeing plenty of each other over the coming years.
I’m proud to say that, minus those few years the Women’s Australian Open went into hiatus, I’ve been coming back every single year to play my national championship. I love it.
I’ve just turned 45 and, physically, I’m not feeling too bad. I’ve actually never missed any golf through injury. People ask me what the secret has been, and I have to say a little bit of luck has been involved. Very early on in my career I was made aware of the importance of looking after my body. I played a full schedule for 23 years before I made the decision to lessen the load these past two seasons. I know I’ll start feeling the effects of a long-term career more and more each year – that’s the reality of swinging golf clubs for 25 years on tour. I’m already starting to deal with that but, luckily, it doesn’t stop me from playing golf.
I actually haven’t played a tournament round since the 2019 British Open so I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things at the Vic Open, then the Aussie Open a week later. I did the same schedule last year because my priority has been to spend more time back home in Australia with my family and focusing on other commitments. I’m loving it. If I’m being honest, I don’t ever see a full schedule working for me again. I just don’t have the heart to do the grind or put in the hard work required to play week in, week out anymore. You can practise all you want but if you’re only playing 18 events over two years like me, you’re just not mentally sharp enough. Don’t get me wrong, I know if I somehow found the motivation to do the full schedule again, I’d still be good enough to compete and win tournaments. It’s just hard to turn it back on.
I can’t think of a better place to get back in the groove than the Vic Open. It’s such a fantastic concept that didn’t really get the attention it deserved until the men’s European Tour and LPGA Tour co-sanctioned it. It was only then that the rest of the world started noticing. The global media coverage has since led to more corporate support and it’s been truly amazing to see what it’s done for the game, not only in Australia but all around the world. It’s exactly why men’s and women’s tennis gets an equal playing field these days – the respective players’ star quality and celebrity are similar because they’re competing on the same stage come tournament time.
Golf’s been a little late to the party when it comes to equality. We’ve been talking about it for many years without doing anything substantial. That’s all changing and, as they say, better late than never. The importance of growing the women’s side of the game and getting juniors involved is paramount. The money being put into this will ensure we’re in a stronger position moving forward. I’m working closely with our sport in Australia to continue to push women’s golf, from the administration and junior development side, right up to how we can increase the exposure of our players in the mainstream media – and even get more women golfers on magazine covers!
“Golf’s been a little late to the party when it comes to equality.”
I’m a massive cricket fan and love watching the women’s game on TV. The money being put into their sport over the past two years has allowed players to become full-time professional athletes. They can finally dedicate their working life to training and performing at their peak in big games. As a result, the standard of cricket has increased immensely and is attracting bigger corporate dollars. It shows that if you put money behind something it can change everything for the better. What some golfers on the men’s tour don’t realise is that scenario has been a given for them their whole lives. When they reach that high-performance level there’s money there for them, whereas when women reach that same level, there just hasn’t been that same level of financial backing.
I find it interesting when people compare players from different eras. There seems to be a belief that today’s players on the LPGA Tour are harder working and more talented than previous generations, like mine. I’ve even been asked how I think my career would have panned out had it started today… Well, I feel like my career would go along the same path it has, to be honest. I was up against Annika, Se Ri Pak, Lorena Ochoa, Laura Davies and Juli Inkster all through my career, so I had some competition too. I do feel I may be a different kind of athlete if I was starting out today, only because of all the technology and instruction made available to the young players, but I think I’d still have similar success. Trust me, when I was 20 years old, I worked as hard as any of today’s players.
Hannah Green is a shining example of where that work ethic can take you. I was lucky enough to get to watch her in person at the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when she won wire-to-wire to become Australia’s newest Major champion. It’s been an honour to mentor her over the years, although I probably wasn’t the best mentor later that night when I was making drinks out of her trophy. But we can’t forget the rise of Minjee Lee in all this, who’s become somewhat of an afterthought in all the commotion surrounding Hannah’s incredible season. Minjee is still ranked inside the top-10 players in the world and just needs to get that winning bug like Hannah did. I truly believe once she gets one or two wins under her belt quickly, she’ll be away and playing with the confidence she needs to become one of our greats. Before that can happen, of course, she needs to get past me later this month.
Karrie Webb spoke with Brad Clifton