The new look Royal Queensland gets a showcase opportunity – photo Bruce Young

The Fortinet Australian PGA Championship returns to the PGA Tour of Australasia next week when the $1 million time honoured event is played for the first time since last being staged at RACV Royal Pines just over two years ago.

Royal Queensland Golf Club on the shores of the Brisbane River plays host to the iconic Australian event for the third occasion, the previous being when Robert Allenby won the second of two consecutive PGA Championships in 2000 and 2001 before the event headed north to Hyatt Regency Coolum on the Sunshine Coast for eleven years followed by six years at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast.

The event was not played in 2020 or 2021 as a result of the issues surrounding Covid and while the event is essentially a new look tournament in 2022, that one of two Australian flagship events is back on the schedule is a relief to not only golf fans but to tournament starved domestic Australian professionals.

The tournament has been included on the European Tour schedule since late in 2015 when won by Victorian Nathan Holman at Royal Pines but the complications of the Covid 19 virus has mean that in 2022 the event will be played essentially as a domestic Australian event only.

The most recent winners of the event, Adam Scott (2019) and Cameron Smith (2017 and 2018) will not be in the field, in fact only two Australians from the top 14 in the current world men’s rankings, Min Woo Lee (5th highest ranked Australian) and Blake Windred (14th highest ranked) will tee it up this week.

The field therefore is one of the weakest statistically for many years but by Sunday when the whips are cracking the focus will be on who is there rather than who is not.

Lee has been one of Australian golf’s biggest movers in 2021 improving from 179th in the world ranking 12 months ago to his current standing of 49th. Much of that move came from his win at the Scottish Open where his victory, followed by a great finish to the European Tour season saw his rapid rise.

Long considered one of the Australia’s most exciting young prospects, the 23 year old Perth golfer will understandably start the favourite at Royal Queensland.

Two time European Tour winner, Min Woo Lee – the logical favourite in the men’s field. photo Getty / LET

Windred is another Australian to have emerged in 2021 as a future star, the Sydney golfer, now in just his third season as a professional, performing well on the Europe’s second tier tour, the Challenge Tour, and finishing the year with a maiden victory at the Victorian PGA Championship.

An Australian who must be considered an excellent chance is the Gold Coast golfer, Brad Kennedy. Kennedy was the winner of the 2020 / 2021 PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, most of that as a result of his win at the 2020 New Zealand Open where he defeated Lucas Herbert in a final round showdown.

Kennedy recently finished runner-up to Windred at the Victorian PGA Championship and earlier in 2021 won a second-tier event in Victoria and has become a regularly successful performer in Japan where he has won three career titles and more than $A5 million in career earnings.

Kennedy performs well in Queensland and shapes as a good chance to add such a significant title against a field considerably weaker than he would normally face in an Australian PGA Championship.

Run concurrently with the Australian PGA Championship, is the Fortinet Australian Women’s PGA Championship in which 24 players get the chance to see it up for a purse of A$300,000 and a first prize equal to the $180,000 on offer for the men.

The event received a blow earlier this week when Australia’s second highest ranked woman and the highest ranked of any player in this field, Hannah Green, was forced to withdraw due to the Covid restrictions involving her home state of Western Australia.

Green is one of only four Australians to have won a major title in women’s golf and so her withdrawal is a blow and the mantle of favourite is likely to now go to Su Oh or the rapidly emerging Stephanie Kyriacou.

Oh has played the LPGA Tour since 2016 and although yet to win, she has been runner-up on three occasions and has successfully retained full playing rights each year. She has won in Queensland previously when winning the RACV Ladies Masters in 2015 and as the second highest-ranked Australian in the field then she deserves respect.

Kyriacou has been brilliant in her first two seasons as a professional. She is now a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour and recently earned the right to play the LPGA Tour where she is expected to become a force in the years ahead.

Kyriacou is the highest world ranked player in this week’s field following the withdrawal of Green and much will be expected of her at Royal Queensland. The $180,000 would also make a great difference in the early stages of her US campaign.

Stephanie Kyriacou – the highest ranked Australian in the women’s field – photo LET

Other LPGA Tour players in the field include US based Queenslander Sarah-Jane Smith, NSW’s Sara Kemp and Scottish born and raised but now Gold Coaster, Karis Davidson.

Smith has played the LPGA Tour for several years now, while Davidson, who has focused much of her early career on the Japan Ladies Tour, gained her LPGA Tour playing rights a month ago and will be a rookie there this season.

Kemp was three times inside the top ten on the LPGA Tour in 2021 and occasionally produces a high finish including when runner-up at the 2019 Vic Open which was then part of the LPGA Tour. Such a performance this week could well see her contending.

The combined events offer the tournament starved Australian public and many of Australia’s domestic professionals who have been deprived of competitive golf at this level, the opportunity to get high-end tournament golf back on the schedule.