Kiwi Ryan Fox remembers clearly the talents of a teenage Cameron Smith as the two played amateur events across the South-Pacific.
Adrian Meronk is still smarting from a 19-stroke inflicted by the Australian team of Cam Davis, Harrison Endycott and Curtis Luck at the 2016 Eisenhower Trophy, his last amateur event in which Poland finished eighth.
The Hojgaard twins – Rasmus and Nicolai – have their eyes on a football World Cup showdown between Denmark and Australia next Thursday in addition to kick-starting their 2023 DP World Tour seasons.
As Australian golf fans gear up for a homecoming celebration of our stars, these four international raiders represent the top contenders to spoil the party at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland.
A six-hour stopover to drop his young family off in Auckland meant that Fox arrived for Wednesday’s pro-am bleary-eyed and with his brain in a different time zone. Yet, such as been his form in 2022, the 35-year-old combined with his amateur partners to win the morning wave by 12 points.
Fox’s two DP World Tour wins this year saw his world ranking soar from 217 in the world to 27th this week and is excited to start the new season in the first group alongside both Smith and Adam Scott at 6am AEST.
“It’s obviously cool to be back here playing with Cam and Scotty,” said Fox.
“I haven’t played with Cam for a long time. We played a lot of amateur golf together but I’ve played a bit with Scotty over the last few years.
“It’s great to play in those kind of groups. I got to play with Rory (McIlroy) last week in the first round of Dubai and to get a couple of rounds with two Aussie legends is awesome and obviously really nice guys as well.
“Cam always had an amazing short game and that’s no different to now. You watch him round the greens with a wedge in his hand and on the greens, I think there’s arguably no one better in the world at that at the moment.
“He’s obviously pretty good mentally as well and he always was as an amateur.
“It’s been good to follow his progress and I’m looking forward to playing with him in the next couple of days.”
Ranked No.58 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Meronk is also riding the wave of a career year.
He became the first Polish player to win a DP World Tour event at the Horizon Irish Open and makes his second Australian PGA start after finishing tied for 55th in 2017 on the Gold Coast.
“That was my first time in Australia, so probably meeting kangaroos and koalas,” Meronk said when asked the highlight of his tournament debut five years ago.
“My game feels good, so I’d like to just keep going for the next two weeks and get some points on the board for next season and then have some time off before the tournaments in January.”
The Hojgaard twins made history of their own last year when they became the first brothers to win consecutive tournaments on the DP World Tour.
Rasmus – currently ranked No.104 in the world – won the Omega European Masters followed a week later by Nicolai – world No.132 – winning the DS Automobiles Italian Open.
The pair both have aspirations of playing their way onto the European Ryder Cup team in 2023 and see a two-week stint Down Under as an ideal way of advancing their cause.
“There’s a few things in my game I’m working on and I want to test that in play,” said Nicolai.
“I feel like it was just the right time to do it, and I really enjoyed Australia last time I was here.
“Also, the course is different. If you look at the layout and the way the course is playing, it’s just so different compared to Europe. I feel like you need to have way more patience and discipline when you play courses like this and I think that’s a very important thing to test yourself sometimes.
“These next two weeks will be really great for that.”
“That would be ideal, to sort of stand in the way of them a little bit,” Rasmus said of quelling an Australian triumph.
“It would be cool if both Nicolai and I could have a good start to the new season here.
“My game is in a decent place at the moment and I wanted to keep playing, so I thought this was a perfect time for me to go and see what Australia is like.
“(Nicolai) said there were some very nice golf courses. He enjoyed the whole vibe here. He pretty much only had positives to say about Australia, so I thought, I have to go and see myself.”
Although most eyes will be trained on the Australian contingent there are a host of internationals with winning aspirations of their own.
Formerly ranked No.49 in the world, Takumi Kanaya was tied fifth in his last start at the Japan Open, Spaniard Alejandro Canizares is a two-time DP World Tour winner, American Devon Bling made the cut as an amateur at The Masters in 2019 and England’s David Howell is a five-time winner in Europe as well as the 1998 Australian Masters champion.