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On Tour: A Summer To Remember - Australian Golf Digest On Tour: A Summer To Remember - Australian Golf Digest

It was an epic run of 18 tournaments on the PGA Tour of Australasia, yet some questions remain unanswered

The theatrics of Min Woo Lee, the audacity of Joaquin Niemann and the emergence of Kazuma Kobori will linger in the memory from an intriguing summer of golf on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia.

Amid the ongoing battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour for the hearts and minds of golf fans, the Australasian circuit showcased some cracking golf over the season through its broadcast partners Fox Sports and the Seven Network.

The 18-event season began with a much-needed boost when financial services provider Challenger came on board as title sponsor for the PGA Tour of Australasia. It added the impetus for the next generation of local talent to showcase their wares from Port Moresby to Rye on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula [see table].

2023-2024 Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia Order Of Merit:

As for the season highlight, Min Woo Lee emerged from the shadow of his sister Minjee to capture his maiden professional win on home soil with a pulsating performance at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland. Lee’s exuberance, histrionics and daring shot-making compensated for the disappointment of Cam Smith missing the cut in his hometown return.

Lee then produced a contender for ‘Shot of the Summer’ at the ISPS Handa Australian Open from the straw underneath a pine tree on the par-5 18th at The Australian Golf Club. With 173 metres to the flag, Lee hooked a 9-iron over the greenside pond into the heart of the green where the ball screwed towards the flagstick to set up an eagle 3 for the halfway lead.

But ‘Shot of the Summer’ belonged to Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, who added his name to the Stonehaven Cup by prevailing against Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino on the second extra hole. Niemann only reached the playoff with a remarkable birdie on the 72nd hole after blocking his tee shot right. Faced with a blind approach over trees, hospitality tents and the same greenside pond, he launched an approach into the stratosphere that found the green for a two-putt birdie.

2023-2024 Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia schedule:

In the New Year, Kiwi Kazuma Kobori announced himself as a player to watch by winning three times in the space of four weeks. All three victories came in the innovative Webex Players Series events that featured women professionals and used scaled tees to offset the physical advantage of male players. Just months after winning the individual title at the World Amateur Teams Championship, Kobori secured the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year honours. The reward for the 22-year-old is DP World Tour playing privileges in 2025 as well as entry into the Open Championship at Royal Troon this July.

Brett Coletta and Daniel Gale also gained DP World Tour exemptions by virtue of finishing in the top-three of the Order of Merit. Coletta won the prestigious Vic Open at 13th Beach while Gale won the Northern Territory PGA Championship and Webex Players Series Hunter Valley.

The PGA Tour of Australasia deserves enormous credit for building a revamped 18-tournament schedule in a financially challenging post-COVID market where inflation, cost-of-living pressures and political instability are rampant. The return of the NSW Open to next year’s schedule (due to a date change) should further enhance the tour’s stature.

However, the PGA of Australia (and Golf Australia) must address the appalling treatment of Australian/New Zealand tournaments by the Official World Golf Ranking. Winning the Australian Open led to a Masters invitation for Chile’s Niemann, yet he received a modest 14.79 ranking points. Min Woo Lee garnered 13.51 points for the Australian PGA while the 103rd NZ Open winner obtained just 6.62 points.
So much for history.

But it’s the lesser events that have really suffered. For instance, the West Australian Open received a paltry 1.13 points for winner Simon Hawkes. By comparison, Ryan Fox acquired 6.0 points as the victor in 2014 while Greg Norman collected 16.0 points in 1986.

So it’s not only LIV Golf being screwed over by the governing board of the OWGR. It raises an obvious question: if they can’t publish “a transparent, credible and accurate ranking”, why should we continue supporting the International Federation of PGA Tours? 

 getty images: bradley kanaris