Clayton: Golf finds its place as Royal Queensland set to rock

Clayton: Golf finds its place as Royal Queensland set to rock

Professional golf is in a much different place than it was 11 months ago when the Australian PGA Championship emerged from a Covid induced slumber at Royal Queensland.

Jed Morgan, a member of the club, smashed everyone and, with no Australian Open and the purse wildly exceeding the rest of the tour’s events, guaranteed himself a DP World Tour card for the 2023 season.

The impact of the Saudi tour is all anyone seems to want to talk about these days and surely most of us are over it.

Maybe in 20 years we’ll have a better understanding of its effects but right now no one really has any clue how it will all play-out and what the inevitable consequences will be.  The only certainty is there will be plenty of unintended ones and no crystal ball can tell you what they might be.

There will unquestionably be unintended consequences coming from LIV just as there were a multitude of them heralded by arrival of Tiger Woods.

Woods, the pro exploded, on to the PGA Tour in the last quarter of 1996 and unimagined money poured into the professional game.

So much of it was there, the best non-Americans could almost instantly, and certainly within a handful of years, make much more prizemoney in the United States than the generation of Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, and Ian Woosnam – although it’s fair to say they hardly went short.

Ballesteros et al could play much of their season in Europe, cash big guarantees (topped up in both Japan and Australia late in the year) and likely make more than just playing for prizemoney across the Atlantic.

The consequence of the Woods’ money influx was the next generation of Europeans including Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Luke Donald took up residence in Florida or Scottsdale instead of Sunningdale, Jersey or Pedrena and pretty much played full-time in the United States.

Twenty years later the European Tour, now the DP World Tour is still more than worthwhile (this week’s winner earns a year’s exemption), but it’s a way away from the halcyon days if the measure is their very best players playing fifteen weeks a year on their home circuit.

Either way, this week at Royal Queensland and next in Melbourne at the Victoria/Kingston Heath Australian Open promises to be a celebration of the achievements of our finest players headed by Cameron Smith and Minjee Lee. Both are amongst the best handful of players in men’s and women’s game and is there another global game we play where we can claim the same?

Smith is not Norman in terms of Hollywood but he’s fascinating to observe because it’s not immediately obvious why he is such a brilliant player. You only had to watch a young Norman – or Adam Scott – hit a shot to see they were both going to be world-class.

Smith’s game is different, more like those of past PGA champions Peter Thomson, Kel Nagle or Graham Marsh, but no less interesting.

Scott too is in Brisbane this week and like the man tired with London being tired with life, if you’re tired of watching Adam Scott play golf, your standards are way too high.

I first saw him play in Melbourne in 1999 and whilst it’s ideally better seeing them as kids than war-weary veterans, 20-plus years on there are still few more beautiful sights in the game than the Queenslander swinging the club.

Click here for the full field draw for Thursday’s first round of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship.

By Mike Clayton