The current Australian and Queensland PGA Champions, Jed Morgan and Michael Sim at Nudgee today – photo PGA 

The PGA Tour of Australasia moves just a few kilometres north for this week’s Queensland PGA Championship, the event following on from the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship held at nearby Royal Queensland last week.

The event has been switched from a very successful period at the City Golf Club in Toowoomba where it moved in 2009 but the decision to move to the Nudgee Golf Club located adjacent to the Gateway Motorway was prompted, amongst other considerations, by the rejuvenation of that course into a 36 hole facility.

Jim Wilcher, formerly with Graham Marsh Golf Design then Greg Norman Golf Design before branching out on his own, was commissioned to undertake the very important role of the redevelopment of such a strategically placed and historic golfing facility and this week the new layout gets its first chance to showcase itself to a wider audience.

The field is essentially the same which lined up last week at Royal Queensland, the notable excpetion being Min Woo Lee, but the new Australian PGA Champion Jed Morgan starts the hot favourite to continue the remarkable form he displayed when winning one of Australian golf’s most iconic titles by a massive eleven shots just a few days ago.

Many of the same players involved at the business end of the event last Sunday will again be considered favourites to perform well including not only Morgan but the likes of last week’s 3rd placed, Louis Dobbelaar, Brad Kennedy, Blake Windred and Jake McLeod will have their admirers and others will also come into consideration.

Essentially the defending champion, Michael Sim started and finished last week’s event well but it was not so good in the middle but he is a class player at best and the former PGA Tour player might improve further.

Sim won this event at the City Golf Club two years ago and with the 2021 staging cancelled he arrives at the Nudgee Golf Club as the current holder of the title.

Anthony Quayle is a former Queensland Open Champion, now plying his trade in Japan and last week he recovered from a slow start to finish 6th at Royal Queensland and should be considered as a chance.

Elvis Smylie was brought undone by a second round of 73 last week but finished the event strongly and now fit and healthy after struggles during his rookie season in Europe last year he will be one to watch.

Adelaide youngster Jack Thompson has already won an event on the PGA Tour of Australasia and did well enough last week for him to be considered a chance of extending his already impressive record in professional golf.

It might not carry the same hype or rewards as offered by last week’s Australian PGA Championship but, for many of those in the field, this week a victory will play a key role in the development or extension of their career.

There is interest therefore in that aspect but also interest in just how Brisbane’s newest golfing facility holds up so soon after its opening.

There will also be interest to see just how Jed Morgan backs up his domination of last week’s field but golf works in funny ways and the expected does not always turn out that way.

 

 

 

Morgan in action in yesterday’s final round – photo Bruce Young

As mentioned in an earlier article, the win of Jed Morgan in last week’s Fortinet Australian PGA Championship has seen the 22-year-old make an enormous leap in the latest world ranking released today.

Perhaps surprisingly the event carried a strong world ranking rating, likely as a result of the presence of  Min Woo Lee in the field but all the same his jump from 1522 to 210 is one of the largest from any one event seen by this writer.

Outside of Lee, the field had no other player inside the top 300 players in the world so the event’s ranking was a surprise but from being outside the top 100 Australians in the men’s world ranking heading into last week, Morgan is now the 10th leading ranked Australian male golfer, placing further emphasis on just what last week’s very special performance has meant to him.

The week for Morgan, therefore, earned him A$180,000, an almost guaranteed European Tour card for the next three years, three starts on the 2022 European Tour Schedule and one of Australian golf’s most iconic golfing titles.

There will likely be other benefits from the win in terms of access to tournaments around the world but from being a gutted man when he missed out on both Korn Ferry and Latin American Tour qualifying in recent months the Queenslander’s life has turned full circle.

“I wanted to just make the cut this week, this week,” said Morgan when made aware of the spoils coming his way as a result of the win.

“I know that’s a low kind of target to shoot at, but it was all reality. I felt a lot of pressure, especially on myself, obviously being a member here and having won the Australian Amateur here and stuff. I missed a couple of Tour Schools in the US towards the end of my trip and come back a little bit with my tail between my legs.

“I was just lucky I went to the local Tour School in April before the Aussie Tour and yeah, obviously the opportunities I got from that, plus playing this week, it’s just been pretty sick (the modern term for good).”

His fellow Australian PGA Champion Su Oh, who won the women’s version of the event, was very much aware of the anguish Morgan had gone through when narrowly missing the chance to earn a tour card at Q-schools in the US in October and November as the pair had shared accommodation on occasion during Morgan’s recent trip to the US.

“He was up at like 4 am and couldn’t even play a hole because it got rained out and ended up missing by a shot,” said Oh. “So I felt really bad and I really felt bad because he was up so early and just couldn’t even play. I think he really deserves it this week and hopefully he’ll kill it out there on the European Tour.”

To suggest no rookie has earned more from a win so early in their career, is hardly an overstatement and, as is the case at any level of the game, you never quite know what is around the corner.

 

 

Su Oh and Jed Morgan hold their respective trophies – photo PGA of Australia.

22 year old Jed Morgan not only created history with his winning margin of eleven at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship today, he became the youngest player to win the title since the event turned to a stroke-play event in 1964 and, more importantly, created a career for himself.

The win over his home course layout at Royal Queensland all but guarantees the Queenslander full status on the DP World Tour (formerly known as the European Tour) in 2023, earns him starts in three DP World Tour events in 2022 and earns him a cheque for A$180,000 which I imagine at this stage of his career will be a welcome boost.

The leading three players at the end of the 2022 PGA Tour of Australasia will automatically earn cards for the European Tour and so just two months after turning to the paid ranks, Morgan has all but secured that very important asset for a rookie, namely a significant tour on which to play for several years.

Morgan becomes the immediate beneficiary of an initiative announced between the PGA Tour of Australasia earlier this week and the DP World Tour to provide greater pathways for emerging players and Morgan’s win today certainly does that!

Jed Morgan today – photo Bruce Young

Morgan took a nine shot 54 hole lead into today’s final round and from his opening birdie from ten feet or so at the first, the probable became inevitable as he birdied the 3rd and although he would later produce as many bogeys (3) today than he had in all 54 previous holes, he had done enough work over the opening three days to allow for the occasional mistake.

So how was he feeling as he headed out on a perhaps more important than normal Sunday round of golf at his local club?

“No, I’m pretty sure before a normal Sunday game at Royal Queensland I don’t want to vomit,” he said referring to the nerves he was feeling .

“So, it’s been difficult. The last two days, I’m glad it’s over, whether I won  or lost, I’m just glad it’s over because I’ve never had that type of emotion. I’ve felt pressure for sure, I’m sure like Su’s felt it more than I have, she’s played in major championships and obviously has cemented her spot on the LPGA Tour, but I’ve never felt pressure like the way I felt it this week.

“It was something I want to do it again. Obviously, there’s a couple of things I’d do a bit different, just try not to feel that way, but you can’t help most of it.”

If Morgan was feeling the nerves he certainly did not show it but a birdie at the first certainly helped settle things down.

“It was massive. I said I wanted to get 25-under at the start of the day just to keep pushing myself towards something, but yeah, that was big. I think it was a bigger even birdie the third.

“That kind of cemented a lot of it. Yeah, there were a couple of stages throughout the day I got a bit panicky I guess, made a couple of bogeys in the par 3s, but yeah, that was a nice way to start, especially to that pin.”

Morgan paid credit to his playing partner Oh, the pair familiar with each other through their joint involvement with Golf Australia and having shared accommodation in the US in 2021.

“We almost lived together I guess for a month or two. There’s a special bond I think between Australian golfers that only gets stronger as you go overseas. It’s funny, like the Golf Australia House is obviously provided by the funding that they give to both amateurs and professionals. I’ve been lucky enough to obviously be with that program for five years now.

“I’m forever indebted and grateful for everything and as I said, I think it’s a special bond between Australian golfers and just Australian people in general. We’re huge fans to be Australian and yeah, it’s just awesome. It was awesome to see her win as well.”

So Oh hits her tee shot at the 11th today – photo Bruce Young

The Fortinet WPGA Championship contested by 24 women was won by Su Oh who was the leading ranked player in the field following the withdrawal through Covid associated issues of Hannah Green, Stephanie Kyriacou and Sarah Kemp.

Oh won by four after a final round of 68 saw her extend her two shot 54 hole lead to four.

Recently turned professional, Grace Kim, the current Australian Amateur Champion, finished alone in second place, two ahead of Sarah Jane Smith.

Oh also earns $180,000 and secures her first win since the Australian Ladies Masters at RACV Royal Pines  in 2015 which came in just her second event as a professional.

“When I won at RACV Royal Pines, I didn’t really go into the week trying to win, I just played,” said Oh referring to her win so early at Royal Pines. “It was like my first pro event and I ended up winning. So, it was kind of like, oh, okay.

“This week, when I decided to play, I really wanted to come and win and hopefully put my name on the Karrie Webb Cup. So I think it made me be a bit more, you know, a bit of confidence in myself that I could get it done and it was a small field, but we had good players and it really came down to the last six, seven holes I think. So, it’s nice to get it done.

“I definitely played well. I made quite a lot of mistakes as well though, around the greens. I just don’t think I quite got used to the grain and how it really sits. But I played better than I thought I would, to be honest. I didn’t know if I was going to be ready so early in the year, but I just said, I’d been playing well at the end of the year, so
hopefully that feeling’s still with me.

“It’s always different when you’re under the pump. Sunday feels so different to Thursday, but my swing felt better as the days went on. I actually hit it very good Thursday, Friday, but played much better on the weekend. I didn’t putt as well today, but still holed all the crucial putts that I had to hole.”

Oh heads back to the USLPGA Tour with the confidence of a win under her belt and it may just be that the young lady who has perhaps not yet lived up to her potential in the US might just make the leap forward in 2022 that many have been waiting for.

The inaugural combined staging of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championships at Royal Queensland worked well and large crowds were present to see one of their own take the men’s title and perhaps stamp himself as a star of the future, if not the now.

SCORES FOR BOTH EVENTS

Jed Morgan amongst his many fans today at Royal Queensland – photo PGA of Australia

Starting this week’s Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland, 22-year-old Jed Morgan was ranked 1522nd in the world. If tomorrow, as is now expected, he goes on to win the significant title he will jump some 1300 positions to just outside the top 200 and along with the A$180,000 first place cheque, the week will have played its role setting in establishing yet another impressive Australian golfing career.

Admittedly, such a victory is still 24 hours away, but the manner in which the young man, who has been a professional golfer for just two months, handled a six-shot lead heading into today’s third round suggests the 9-shot lead, he has created for himself through now 54 holes of one of Australian golf’s most iconic events, should be more than enough of a cushion to get the job done.

Any chink in his relatively young professional armour might well have been exposed when taking such a significant lead into today’s third round, but two birdies in his first three holes and an outward nine of 32 all but shut the door to his chasers. When he went even deeper with three further birdies before a bogey at the last, he would sign for a round of 65 and the huge lead.

“That was obviously the biggest worry,” said Morgan when referring to being able to back up yesterday’s 63 with another good round.  “After having a good round yesterday, to go out and almost play better again was pretty cool.  But yeah, there’s still one more round to go, so I’ll try my best just to do the same as I did today, tomorrow.”

Morgan was asked about his substantial lead and how that might impact tomorrow.

“Yeah, it’s nice but anything happens in golf, so it doesn’t change a thing. It doesn’t really move me one way or the other, it just makes me kind of win by more if I can and yeah, it helps obviously, but just going to try and do the same thing as I’ve done, because it’s obviously working.”

His 54-hole total of 20 under par has him nine shots clear of the now Newcastle based golfer, Andrew Dodt, although, interestingly, Dodt spent a lot of his early life in Gatton west of Brisbane and not too far from where Morgan was raised in Hatton Vale.

Dodt began today’s third round as though he might just prove a thorn in Morgan’s side with birdies at his opening two holes but a bogey at the 3rd and Morgan’s impressive response soon put paid to that.

Dodt’s round of 68 has kept him in touch but he will need something very special if he is to chase his younger opponent down and will also need a little help from that same person.

“Is it doable”, responded Dodt when asked if the nine shot lead was too much. “Nine shots, that’s a lot, on his home course in front of his home fans.  It’s going to take a low round and potentially a not so good round on his behalf, but he’s full of confidence, he’s playing well, he’s holing putts.  It’s going to be tough.

“I think you’ve got to play it (the course) on its merit.  You’ve got to look at the pins, because you can quite easily make bogeys if you miss it in the wrong spot.  So it’s about knowing when to go at it and when to just play a little bit safe. But 9 back, you’ve got to be a little bit aggressive.”

A nine shot 54 hole lead has been overcome in the past, most notably when Paul Lawrie overcame a ten shot deficit to win the 1999 Open Championsip at Carnoustie and I can recall being involved as a caddy myself when my then boss, New Zealander John Lister, over came a nine shot final round margin to win a significant professional event  event in Christchurch in New Zealand in the mid 1970’s.

But this is not Carnoustie and Morgan does not have the likes of Lawrie, Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods chasing him down and he has the advantage of a home course and a home crowd to aid his cause.

David Micheluzzi birdied five consecutive birdies in his closing nine of 31 to move into 3rd place alone, the young Victorian first spring to the golfing public’s attention when 5th behind Abraham Ancer at the 2018 Australian Open.

The women’s event is led by Victorian Su Oh who added a third round of 68 to move pass the halfway leader Grace Kim secure a two shot lead over Kim and Sarah Jane Smith into tomorrow’s final round of the women’s version of the Australian PGA Championship.

“I wasn’t hitting the ball very well yesterday, so I just tried to minimise the damage a little bit, started to feel a little bit better today,” said Oh.

“So yeah, it’s just kind of tricky, you know, like I don’t think it will really change the way I play the golf course,” she added when asked about her awareness of what other’s were doing.”

The purse for the women is the same ($180,000) as that for the men despite their field containing just 24 players.

A win for Oh, Kim or Smith would therefore provide a significant boost to their careers, especially given Kim has only just turned professional and Smith only recently regained her LPGA Tour playing rights.

Men’s and Women’s scores

 

 

 

 

Grace Kim in action today – photo PGA of Australia

Sydney’s Grace Kim leads the Fortinet Australian Women’s PGA Championship through 36 holes at the Royal Queensland Golf Club, the recently turned professional adding a round of 68 to her opening 69 to lead by one over the pre-tournament favourite, Su Oh, with another of those favoured to do well this week, Sarah Jane Smith, just one further back.

21 year old Kim, the current Australian Women’s Amateur Champion but now a professional, hails from the Avondale Golf Club on Sydney’s North Shore and turned professional in September.

Unable to secure LPGA Tour status via the recent qualifying process, she did secure conditional status on the secondary and feeder Symetra Tour and is destined to work her way to the big time via that process.

“I’ve got the majority of the Aussie schedule/tournaments coming up, play all the players series and then hopefully I’ll be able to head back to the US around mid-April or May and start my Symetra schedule over there.

“I’ve just currently got a conditional status, so I’m going to try my best to play as many as I can.”

Back to her impressive round of 68 this morning and Kim highlighted the need for strategy around the Royal Queensland layout.

“Yes, you’ve got to be strategic around this golf course and I feel like I forced a couple of shots yesterday, just because of the wind, hence I missed a couple of fairways or missed a couple of greens here and there, but yes, like you said, you’ve got to be placing yourself well on the golf course and missing it on the right side.”

When asked what she is learning in the early stages of her professional career Kim responded;

“I think the biggest lesson – well, I’m still learning – is just to be calm and collected on the golf course.  I’ve seen Geoff, Geoff didn’t do too well today and he might not be that happy with himself, but I thought he did really good to be able to just keep it in the game and obviously not get too emotional.

“I think towards the end of my amateur career I definitely was a bit too emotional with my shots and yeah, it was so nice to be able to see from, even with his career, he’s still able to just stay in the present, you know, one shot at a time and his short game – wow – I wish I had a short game.”

Oh, a former Australian Ladies Masters Champion, plays the LPGA Tour but has yet to win there. Today she was unable to repeat her fast start of yesterday when opening with a round of 66 despite a fast start to her second round when recording birdies at her 2nd and 4th holes.

She would drop three shots in six holes in the middle of her round but got things back on track with a birdie at the 12th and eventually finished with 72.

“Yesterday was a lot easier I think,” said Oh.  “I wasn’t really that far off today, just you don’t really have to be far off here to miss the green or miss or tee.  Just a couple of yards short here and there, probably missed two short putts, which didn’t help.  Yeah, just very grainy on the greens, really couldn’t get much going today, but finished par/par, so happy days.

Smith too made a fast start but like Oh she struggled through the middle of her round before steadying the ship with a birdie at the 16th and although she missed a very makeable chance at the last she is nicely poised as the event heads into the weekend.

Su Oh today – photo Bruce Young

Smith has just regained her playing status for the LPGA tour which she lost late in 2021. She managed to regain her card at the recent Q School and will head back to play the LPGA tour again on Tuesday.

She would say after her round today that the exhausting and nerve-racking process of the Tour School may well have helped her career.

“I mean, I think having Q-School last year and last year as in like four weeks ago, I think that’s going to be the best thing for me for the rest of my career, I think, because there’s nothing ever going to feel like that.  That was the most pressure I think I’ve ever felt.

“It’s for my career really, because I don’t know what I would have done had I actually missed that.  That was I think the most pressure I’ll ever feel, I think to have the opportunity to win something as opposed to lose something, it’s just a totally different pressure.  So I hope that if that was to come, then I would do a lot better.”

Smith has seldom won in her now lengthy career but she is a player good enough to contend for this title over the weekend.

Importantly, the winner of the women’s event secures a cheque for A$180,000, the same winning cheque as the men so there is a lot at stake for the winner of this inaugural WPGA Championship.

SCORES

MEN’S REPORT

 

Jed Morgan in action this morning – photo Bruce Young

22-year-old Jed Morgan stole the show on the second morning of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at the Royal Queensland Golf Club in Brisbane, the local golfer racing six shots clear of the morning field at the completion of his second round of 63, less than two months after turning professional.

While just beginning life in the paid ranks, Morgan has a stellar amateur career behind him, having won the Australian Amateur Championship on this same golf course nearly two years ago.

After spending several months in the US this year to complete his amateur career, he turned professional in November although he had already earned his PGA Tour of Australasia playing rights earlier in the year.

Raised in Hatton Vale west of Brisbane, Morgan now lives in Brisbane, joining the Gailes Golf Club before becoming a member at Royal Queensland and he retains membership at both golf courses although plays mainly at Royal Queensland when home.

He is an engaging character and has created a lot of friendships at Royal Queensland, many of whom were on the golf course early this morning to witness his spectacular round of 63 to go with his opening of 65.

He spoke after his round of the fondness he has for Royal Queensland and why he is performing so well here. “For one, the members are out here and my family’s out here cheering me on, which is probably the biggest thing.  I’ve obviously played here more times than I can remember and obviously won the Amateur here, which is nice to have that behind me.

“But yeah, it suits my eye off the tee and once you know where to hit it and what spots to hit it to, you just do that and hopefully it all works out and today it did.”

Nines of 31 and 32 added up to his round of 63, three birdies in a row to complete his opening nine establishing momentum for his back nine. It could have been even better as he thought his tee shot at the par 3 8th (his 17th) was going in.

“I nearly holed it on 17 which is my eighth hole and I’m a bit annoyed it didn’t go in, because I haven’t had a hole in one, but it went to about half a foot.  It was nice; probably the best one.”

Morgan is enjoying the opportunity of a home game so to speak, given that he resides in Brisbane. “Yeah, it’s good.  It’s in your own backyard.  I’m in my own bed tonight, which is nice.  I think it’s just good for everybody to be here from every state and hopefully the trend from this tournament I think can be taken forward into the rest of the year and stop cancelling everything hopefully, so hopefully we keep playing as much as we can and hopefully the Tour just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Morgan spent time with his fellow Queenslander, Cameron Smith while in the US to play amateur events last year and he explained just what he had gained from the experience.

“He’s got an awesome look on things.  As I’ve gotten to know him a little bit more, he continues just to get better with his view on things.  He’s really good at giving advice.  He’s pretty smart in terms of how he works and stuff.  He doesn’t exert really much energy elsewhere apart from where it’s important, which is probably the biggest thing I’ve taken from him.”

His response to the question about whether he had thought about the possibility of winning this week was interesting. Many young players in his position would provide the stock standard answer of saying that they would just take it one shot at a time but Morgan was not backing away from the question.

“I’m definitely thinking about it. It’s pretty hard not to if you’re leading, so, it’s part of it.  There’s plenty of guys ahead of me that have thought about winning and gone on to win, so no reason I can’t do it.”

The afternoon field faced slightly breezier conditions and a firming golf course and so the remarkable six shot advantage Morgan had created appeared unlikely to be seriously threatened and so it would prove.

FINAL SCORES

 

 

 

 

Louis Dobbelaar in action at Royal Queensland this week – photo Bruce Young

20-year-old Queensland rookie professional, Louis Dobbelaar, has already experienced a rewarding few weeks, but after taking the opening round lead at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland things could potentially get significantly better over the next few days.

Several weeks ago and just a few weeks after turning professional, Dobbelaar achieved the most important milestone in the early stages of any young professional golfer’s career, namely a place to play. Dobbelaar finished runner-up at the PGA Tour Latino America’s qualifying venue in Florida and gained access to what is essentially a feeder tour for the Korn Ferry and eventually the PGA Tour.

The 2016 New Zealand Amateur Champion and 2021 Australian Amateur career has already achieved significant titles in amateur golf in this region but in the US this year he finished off his amateur career with victories at the prestigious North and South Amateur at Pinehurst and the Dogwood International in Atlanta.

Coached by highly regarded Sunshine Coach mentor, Grant Field, Dobbelaar joined one of his ‘Field Stablemates’ Cameron Smith on a trip to the US in 2021 where he practiced and spent time with Australia’s number one male golfer and so he entered the professional ranks with a significant background behind him in amateur golf.

Dobbelaar was out in the afternoon field on day one and got his tournament off to the near perfect start when holing his approach for eagle at the 2nd hole with a sand iron and followed that up with birdies at the next four holes. His only blemish came when dropping a shot at the par 3 8th hole but he leads by one over fellow Queenslanders Aaron Pike and another former Australian Amateur Champion in Jed Morgan.

Queensland based New South Welshman, Dylan Perry is another shot back along with yet another former Australian Amateur Champion Victorian, Andrew Martin, Queenslander Michael Wright and New South Welshman James Grierson.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s a pretty cool feeling,” said the leader.  “My game definitely feels good, so just got to keep trusting myself and doing all the good things right.”

Referring to the fact that he has a 6.35 tee time tomorrow Dobbelaar is aware that his good start in the windier afternoon conditions today opens up a good opportunity to consolidate his standing tomorrow.

“I mean, got to get home and have a good rest and get some good food into me, but it wasn’t too windy this arvo.  I know it can get pretty windy around here, so hopefully that’s a good thing.”

Dobbelaar was asked about the difference between playing events as an amateur and playing for a significant purse.

It’s definitely something new to me.  I think it’s probably a bit overwhelming at first when you haven’t really earnt much, so once I accepted that I think I can just keep on doing my stuff and just play golf after that.”

Pre-tournament favourite Min Woo Lee has made a solid start to be at 3 under but he is tied for 9th place and four from the lead.

The women’s event, the WPGA Championship is led by Victorian Su Oh whose round of 66 leaves her three ahead of recently turned professional Grace Kim.

Oh, who has played the LPGA Tour in the last few years, won the Ladies Masters at Royal Pines several years ago but is surprised that she has performed so well in Queensland conditions which are not all that familiar to her Victorian background.

“I actually don’t like grainy (greens) and I don’t like the heat. So I’m glad I shot a good score today, but hopefully a second win in Queensland would be quite nice

“There were not too many mistakes, I think I just made one bad shot. Other than that, everything else was quite good.”

Men’s and Women’s scores

Su Oh – photo PGA of Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Jane Smith during yesterday’s pro-am

Florida based Queenslander, Sarah Jane Smith, is enjoying being back in Australia for the first time in over two years and as the week has progressed at Royal Queensland, the 37-year-old is emerging as a chance to take back to the US more than just the memories of a break to see her folks on the Sunshine Coast.

Smith is playing the Fortinet WPGA Championship being played in conjunction with the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship in which the Karrie Webb Cup and a first prize of A$180,000 are up for grabs and with the withdrawal from the event of three of the original six LPGA Tour players in the field, she comes into calculations as a winning chance.

Last week, the pre-tournament favourite, Hannah Green, was forced to withdraw due to the difficulties surrounding border issues in her home state of Western Australia and just this week, two other LPGA Tour players and tournament favourites, Sarah Kemp and Stephanie Kyriacou, fell victim to the Covid testing which all participants at Royal Queensland are subject to during registration.

Smith, her fellow Queenslander, Karis Davidson and Victorian Su Oh, are, therefore, the three remaining LPGA Tour players in the field and, while she might have done well either way, her chances of contending for the title have improved.

Smith has played the LPGA over the last 15 years or so and although she has yet to record a victory, there have been several significant performances including a runner-up LPGA Tour event finish and a 5th place at the 2018 US Women’s Open.

Smith and her husband Duane, also a Queenslander, have been married since 2009 and now have a son of 2½ years, Theo. The opportunity to get back to Australia and combine a visit home to see family and to play this event was too good to turn down.

Smith’s lack of form in the US in 2021 resulted in her having to return to the LPGA Qualifying School in December where she just managed to regain her playing rights and on Tuesday she heads back to Florida where she will likely begin her season at the Gainbridge event in Boca Raton in late January as she looks to get her career back on track.

A win this week and the confidence such would bring would play a big role in doing just that.

 

Gavin Kirkman PGA of Australia C.E.O and Rodger Davis (Chairman) at today’s media conference – photo PGA of Australia

The Fortinet Australian PGA Championship and the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia received a major boost this week when the PGA of Australasia’s CEO, Gavin Kirkman and its Chairman, Rodger Davis, announced an extension of their strategic alliance with the DP World Tour (previously known as the European Tour).

The result will see prize-money for the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship doubled for its late 2022 edition but, importantly for the pathways so necessary for player development, the initiative will also provide the opportunity for those playing events on the PGA Tour of Australasia, greater access to golfing tours worldwide.

That such an initiative comes at a time when Covid is inflicting all sorts of pressures on the the sporting world makes the announcement even more impressive and is a reflection of two years work by the PGA of Australia to build on its relationship with the then European Tour in order to allow its members to more easily access ongoing pathways.

The delayed 2020 then 2021 Australian PGA Championship was to have been a European Tour event. The impact of Covid ruled that out, but subject to a return to some sort of normality in the second half of this year, the event will form part of the early 2022/2023 season DP World Tour and provide a likely fitting climax to a race for three DP World Tour cards up for grabs via the PGA Tour of Australasia.

“We’ve been in partnership in an alliance with them (European Tour) from 2017, but we’re going to extend and move into another five year term with the DP World Tour,” said Kirkman.

“The partnership will increase player pathways for Australasian players. The Fortinet Australian PGA Championship will increase in prize money from the addition or staging of the championship in 2022 from $1 million to $2 million and it will have a co-sanction arrangement on the DP World Tour for the next five years.

“There will be an increase of prize money to a range of tournaments on our Tour and there will also be increased events over the next three to five year term.  You’ll see will be additional DP World co-sanctioned events here on the Australasian Tour.”

The obvious question was just where this money is coming from?

“I think the strategic alliance and I think the billboard funding here, you’ll see Fortinet has just come on board.  Fortinet is a cyber security company that’s involved with PGA Tour and also DP World Tour, so you can see strengthening the alliance from working with the other tours, it’s going to open up more commercial opportunities for our commercial team to be able to work with.

“They’re investing into our tour to make sure we develop, we’re sustainable and we’ve got the pathways, but it will be a combination, not just tipping money into our Tour.  A combination of working closely and commercialising our Tour, working closely aligned to the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.

On the increased exemptions to other tours as a result of success here on the PGA Tour of Australasia, Kirkman expanded.

“The great pathway is at the moment our Order of Merit.  We receive one DP World Tour card at the end of our Order of Merit, that one will go to three.  So our top three players on the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit will receive DP World Tour cards.

“When you co-sanction an event, you also get the winning exemption from winning a co-sanctioned event on the DP World Tour.

“The other key area will be that any DP World Tour in Asia, we will get five invites into. With the Indian Open coming up and with the Hero Challenge, that’s going to be one event that you’ll see that we’ll have five invites.

“From the PGA Tour’s point of view, there’s also more to final stage of Korn Ferry Tour, there will be five players coming off our Order of Merit going to final stage of Korn Ferry Tour.

“So what we’ve tried to do and we’ve been working for over 12 months, is to ensure that we’re working with all tours to make sure the pathway to get to the main tours is really important.”

Given the demands of the past two years and the impact of the Covid virus on so many sporting events and organisations, the progress the PGA Tour of Australasia has made in putting to bed the features announced today is particularly satisfying to Kirkman.

“The toughest part from our organisation, is that we presented a Tour vision to the board two years ago and that’s exactly when COVID came to town.  So, we’ve got great guns to start with Nick Dastey and Kim Felton that work for our organisation, when they started leading the Tour and we’re working right beside them with Michael McDonald, our commercial director.  We had this vision two years ago, but we were just in a position of questioning how were we going to implement and grow the Tour.

“The last six months we’ve been in discussion with the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour and the confidence they have in what we’ve put on the table with our vision, makes this very satisfying.

“To sit here today and to be able to talk to our players who are out there warming up (at Royal Queensland) and getting ready to tee off tomorrow morning, that we’ve got some strategic plans for our Tournament, we’re going to see growth over the next month for the current season and we’re also then going to see growth for the next five years.  It puts us in a really strong position, to make our Tour sustainable.”

 

 

Elvis Smylie plays the pro-am at Royal Queensland today – photo Bruce Young

The scarcity of highly world ranked golfers in this week’s Fortinet Australian PGA Championship field opens the door for a young Australian golfer to step up and claim not only one of Australian golf’s most coveted titles but the first prize cheque of $180,000 which would provide a major boost for an emerging young golfer.

One such player is the highly talented 19-year-old Elvis Smylie who just nine months after turning professional comes into calculations as a possible contender this week.

Smylie turned professional soon after finishing runner-up to Brad Kennedy at a Tier 2 Australasian Tour event at the Rosebud Country Club on the Mornington Peninsula in late January and followed that up with a 3rd place finish at the TPS Sydney event and a runner-up finish at the NSW Open in March.

Smylie set out on a campaign in Europe but he did so with only a limited amount of guaranteed starts on a tour which he had no status and it was a tough tough but learning time for him.

Harnessed by the pressure of having to play well in whatever events he could get a start in order to earn the right to play ongoing events, he struggled to build momentum and was eventually bought undone by a dislodged disc in his back.

“Going back to the middle of 2021, I played the NSW Open in late March and then I had about a month off and then I headed over in about June to Munich and played off a couple of sponsor exemptions on the European Tour and learnt a lot about my game there,” said Smylie at a press conference for this week’s Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland.

“Obviously, it was very unfortunate with what happened with my back.  I had a minor dislodge in my lower right back, which was – I mean, to be honest, it was probably just a bit of overuse.  It’s very hard going from Australia to Europe where your routines aren’t the same.

“I think that’s the number 1 thing I learnt, was you have to adapt and adjust as well as you can.  Obviously going back over there in May after I play all these Australian events, I’ll have a very good understanding of what I need to do better and I’ll just know how to handle my business a little bit better.  So, I’m grateful to have that experience.”

“I’m 100% fit now and rearing to go,” he added today, no doubt looking to pick up where he left off in Sydney in March.

“You know, it’s just keeping it simple,” he added when asked how he felt about the year ahead.

“I mean, not getting in your own way, I’ve got such a great team behind me.  Obviously, my coach, Ian Triggs, I’ve been with since I was about 8 years old and I’m still working with him and he’s great for me.  Then yeah, I mean, it’s just keeping it simple, just staying out of my own way.

“I know what works well for me, I know what doesn’t.  Obviously, I’m focusing more on what does work well for me, but when things don’t go well, I learn from them pretty quickly and I know how to make that not happen again.”

The former Australian junior champion comes with an outstanding sporting pedigree, his mother (Liz) a multiple doubles champion in Grand Slam tennis events and his father (Peter) also a former tennis pro but who now manages the career of his son.

Smylie has the presence and demeanour of a classy and confident golfer on the golf course and the results he has shown in his very short professional career to date suggests that there is an exciting future ahead for the 19 year old Gold Coaster.

To assist his cause this week will be the architect behind the redesign of Royal Queensland’s design, Mike Clayton, who has developed a close friendship with the youngster, the pair together as player / caddie in Smylie’s impressive run at the Australian Open two years ago and his good performances in Australia in 2021 and the Australian veteran will be on the bag again this week.

“Yeah, it means everything to be able to have a little bit of an inside scoop with the course’s own to be on your bag. This place is what you see is what you get around here and yeah, it’s very hard to be able to be flabbergasted when you’re off the tee.

“It’s very clear right in front of you, but around the greens it can get pretty tricky with all the undulation and slope, so being on the right side of the hole is quite important around here. But yeah, Clayts and I will have that down pat, so we’ll be fine.”

This week’s Australian PGA Championship might be drawing a long bow in terms of securing his first win but the wins will come before long and having beaten many in this week’s field in events already there is no reason to believe he can’t at least perform well.

Smylie and Clayton doing homework in today’s pro -am – photo Bruce Young