The Open Championship trophy and the iconic starters’ hut at Royal St Georges- photo R&A -Getty David Cannon
This week’s Open Championship at Royal St Georges in Sandwich in Kent will provide significant interest for Australasian golf with thirteen golfers from Australia / New Zealand teeing it up in the 149th edition of golf’s oldest championship.
In 1894, Royal St Georges became the first venue outside of Scotland to host the event, one of only six in England to have staged the Championship over those 148 previous Open Championships
Winners of the Open Championship at Royal St Georges in the modern era include Bill Rogers (1981), Sandy Lyle (1985), Greg Norman (1993) Ben Curtis (2003) and Darren Clarke (2011).
My only exposure to the layout, adjacent to the English Channel, came in 1975 when caddying for the New Zealander, Simon Owen, at the Penfold (British) PGA Championship that year.
My caddying years in Europe never included an Open Championship at Royal St Georges but I experienced just what a demanding test it was in 1975 when Arnold Palmer, at 3 under, won by two shots. Palmer and runner-up Eamonn Darcy were the only two players to finish under par in the event.
It was Palmer’s second to last win in a regular tour event and at the age of 45 I recall the feeling of seeing such a legend defeating a field of European Tour players, nine years after, as a 12 year old, first seeing him in an exhibition match in New Zealand
The Australasian challenge in 2021 is headed by its leading world ranked player, Cameron Smith, but he is joined in order of world ranking by fellow Australasians, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott, Lucas Herbert, Min Woo Lee, Matt Jones, Jason Day, Jason Scrivener, Ryan Fox, Brad Kennedy, Deyen Lawson, Aaron Pike and Daniel Hillier
Cameron Smith will play his 4th Open Championship with a best of 20th at Royal Portrush in 2019. He is in the field courtesy of his world ranking amongst other qualifying criteria. Smith’s most recent form in 2021 has been a little below his best but he has proven himself capable of playing well at the highest level, and on the toughest golf courses, so a good week is not beyond him.
Marc Leishman will tee it up for the 10th time at the Open and has been inside the top 6 on three occasions including when runner-up after a playoff at St Andrews in 2015. His recent 3rd place at the Travelers Championship in Hartford suggests he is not too far from where he needs to be to again do well in a style of golf that clearly suits him.
Adam Scott attempts the Open Championship for the 21st occasion and after a slow start to Open efforts in earlier years, he has improved significantly over the last ten years or so having missed only one cut in that time.
Scott’s agonising near miss at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012 when leading by four with four to play is the one he and his fans no doubt remember most, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but there was also a 3rd place the following year at Muirfield and a 5th place in 2014 at Royal Liverpool.
Some solid results in recent weeks in the US, suggest Scott is on the verge of another good Open Championship showing.
Lucas Herbert played his way into the event with his win at the Irish Open eight days ago. Herbert’s only other appearance at the Open came when making the cut but finishing 58th at the 2018 edition at Carnoustie.
The 25 year old Victorian has developed into an outstanding world class player in the last eighteen months and it would not surprise if he was to put together another very good week in Europe and significantly better his debut effort.
His form prior to his win at the Irish Open was impressive with two very good finishes in PGA Tour events and his 4th place finish last week in Scotland further enhances his claims.
Min Woo Lee was the last of the group into the field following his victory at the Scottish Open on Sunday. He earned one of the spots available to the leading three finishers at the Renaissance Club and not otherwise exempt so his place in the field has been last minute but well earned.
For Lee it will be his first appearance in a major championship and his current form of late, after a disappointing start to 2021, has been trending in the right direction. His most immediate form is clearly evident, finishing an improved 17th at the Irish Open a week ago and then the playoff victory in Scotland on Sunday.
Matt Jones gets his chance courtesy of his Australian Open win in 2019, the leading three players in that event not otherwise exempt earning a way into the field after Covid ruled out the opportunity in 2020.
Jones will play the Open for the 5th time, a best of 30th at St Andrews in 2015 his claim to fame to date.
Jones won on the PGA Tour earlier this year but his more recent form, while solid, has hardly set the world on fire.
Jason Day will play his 9th Open Championship after a 10th place finish on debut in 2010. His best was when finishing 4th, just one shot from the playoff in 2015. Day has shown signs of improvement in recent starts after being forced to withdraw from the Memorial through injury and then not qualifying a start at the US Open. He finished 30th at this venue in 2011 after contending through 36 holes.
Jason Scrivener is in the field courtesy of his standing in the Race to Dubai rankings at the completion of the recent BMW International.
Scrivener will play his first Open Championship, but he has played two other major championships and he is steadily building on what is an increasingly impressive professional career. He has recorded three top tens in three of his last four European Tour starts so he is in solid form and is an ever-improving player.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox will play the Open Championship for the 5th time after topping the 2019 Australasian Tour Order of Merit, a carryover qualifying criteria.
Fox missed the cut at the recent event in Ireland and finished well back after making the cut in Scotland but his form prior to that was very good and he does play links golf well. He has made the cut in three of his previous four appearances at the Open with a best of 16th at Royal Portrush.
Brad Kennedy gets another Open Championship start as a result of winning the most recent Australasian Tour Order of Merit, much of that courtesy of his win at the New Zealand Open in 2020. He has missed the cut at both of his two previous attempts in this event and other than a win in a secondary event in Australia early in the season he has struggled to date in 2021.
Victorian Deyen Lawson gets to play his first Open Championship and earned his start via final qualifying where he led the qualifiers at his venue.
Lawson is playing events on the European Challenge Tour in 2021 but having missed his last ten cuts, this opportunity comes from left field in that respect and is a welcome turnaround of fortunes.
Aaron Pike is an interesting inclusion amongst the Australasian group. Currently ranked 643rd in the world, he has played only eight events in 2021 and has not played an event on a sanctioned tour since March.
Pike did, however, earn his way into the field with a 3rd place finish behind Matt Jones at the 2019 Australian Open so he has earned his place, but this is a big stage for the Brisbane based Northern Territorian.
New Zealand’s Daniel Hillier played his way into the field through a fine effort at final qualifying where, like Dawson, he led the qualifiers at his particular venue – quite an effort.
Hillier is generally considered one of New Zealand’s most exciting male prospects in several years, that assessment further confirmed by several very good finishes on the European Challenge Tour in 2021.
This will be the Wellingtonian’s second major having played the US Open in 2020.
Footnote: New Zealand’s Danny Lee and recent USPGA Tour winner Cameron Davis were also eligible but withdrew because of injury (Lee) and Immigration issues (Davis)
Summary: Marc Leishman and Adam Scott stand out as the most likely of the Australasians to do well but there will be much interest in the performances of two of their current hottest players, Lucas Herbert and Min Woo Lee.