Above: Food for thought? Why not install Karrie Webb as host/ambassador of the Women’s Australian Open? In the twilight of her career, Webb should be the face of our Open in the manner of Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at their respective tour events. No offence to Patricia Bridges, but a good start would be to bake some silverware bearing Webb’s name.
GOLFERS have long memories. It’s a point to consider after the LPGA circus departed Adelaide for the second time.
The folks at Golf Australia and the South Australian state government would be delighted at what was a successful staging of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide.
A captivating finish saw Korea’s world No.6 Ha Na Jang storm home to claim the Patricia Bridges Bowl on a great golf course in flawless condition. Boasting a field that included world No.1 and No.2, Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn, the championship left a very good impression on competitors and, you would assume, a worldwide TV audience.
But having watched the Open over four days, the ABC broadcast hinted that it has the makings of a great tournament. Good, but could be so much better.
For starters, it was missing 22 of the world’s top-30 ranked players (and 36 of the top 50). Most wanted to be fresh for two more appealing events in Thailand and Singapore where the fields were limited to 70 players with no cut and therefore guaranteed prizemoney.
Scheduling is tough but Golf Australia is doing itself no favours by pandering to beauty queens and mediocre LPGA players at the expense of talented young golfers. More than a few eyebrows were raised when a sponsor’s invitation was extended to world No.164 Belen Mozo, better known for Instagram accounts of herself, and then Amy Boulden (world No.302). Meanwhile, Eun Jeong Seong was left to tee it up in pre-qualifying. Last year Seong completed the rare double of winning the US Women’s Amateur to go with her US Junior Women’s Amateur crown … at the age of 16. The only other person to achieve the feat is Hall of Famer Juli Inkster. (To compound the matter, Seong was initially balloted out of this year’s Australian Women’s Amateur where she was a quarter-finalist.)
Two years ago, a 20-year-old Korean professional who had already won her national Open wanted to play the Australian Open. She wasn’t given a sponsor’s invitation. Five months later, In Gee Chun won the US Women’s Open, which carried the largest purse in LPGA history. Little surprise the current world No.3 wasn’t at Royal Adelaide.
Golfers have long memories as veteran tournament promoter Bob Tuohy would attest. He gave starts to unheralded players such as Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng and Jiyai Shin before they were household names. They returned the favour by playing the Australian Ladies Masters in spite of relatively modest purses. It’s hard to imagine Seong slipping below Tuohy’s radar.
At the same time, Golf Australia was obliged to accommodate 100 LPGA Tour members by offering them each $6,000 in airfares as well as complimentary accommodation. It would seem 100 LPGA players (and $600,000) is excessive with so much top-end talent missing. Besides, it encourages a B-Grade tournament.
More places should be allocated to Asian players if the event is to go to the next level. After all, women’s golf in Asia is flourishing and draws much higher ratings than men’s tour events.
Would you believe Japanese TV flew five people to Adelaide to cover the progress of 17-year-old Nasa Hataoka, who won last year’s Japan Women’s Open as an amateur? And can you imagine 22 million viewers watched 33 events on the KLPGA Tour last year?
If the South Australian Tourism Commission was serious about getting bang for its buck, it would insist upon a contingent of Asian media at next year’s event in Adelaide.
As for Eun Jeong Seong (pronounced Oon Jong Song), it’s worth recalling a conversation Jack Newton had with the American golf media about a young Spaniard by the name of Seve Ballesteros.
“His name is Bay-est-ear-oss,” corrected Newton. “And you better learn how to spell it because you’ll be writing it a lot.”