After what has been one of the most excruciating weeks in sport in Australian, it was with some trepidation the boys from Belco ventured over the lake to the Australian Women’s Golf Open at Royal Canberra. Our fears soon washed away as the whole experience was one of the best days I’ve had in sport, barring a few disappointments that will have ramifications for Canberra hosting such an event in the future. Royal Canberra is set in the original Canberra arboretum, namely Westbourne Woods. It is a beautiful course with abundant wildlife and a layout that is testing but just makes you want to have hit. Many of the visiting players had to reminded that cameras were not allowed, even if a holiday snap with an Eastern Grey was in the offing. Having played the course numerous times, I was keen to see how the girls compared by way of distance off the tee etc.
It as a fantastic opportunity to get up close to 9 of the world top 20 female golfer plus a plethora of past champions and future stars. It was a showcase of what is great about sport if played in the spirit in which it is meant to be played. No Peptides or spin doctors here. The players smiled, the players talked, the players actually appeared to be enjoying themselves. Dressed in the latest vibrant colours and fashion. The whole thing was so positive although ironically, many of the youngsters would not have make it past the pro shop if they rocked up in the short skirts and dresses for the Tuesday ladies comp.
On the practice range, there was plenty of chat and catching up as the event was the first for the year for many. The range is where you see how good these girls are. I mean stupidly good. Shot after shot hit with the rhythm of a metronome set to relaxed and comfortable. Chella Choi is an instructional video in 3D such was the purity of her swing. Yani Tseng is pure controlled power. And they all sounded good. Hackers like myself will know what I mean. The sound of a ball being struck flush in the middle of the clubface as opposed to off the tos=e or hossel is an auditory beauty. It was a production line of excellence with one exception being Michelle Wie whose attention to fashion seems to have distracted her from some of the basics of the golf swing hence she was having the weekend off. Laura Davis was tremendous and as nice and friendly as the media would have you believe Any one who thinks its fun to try ands lob golf balls at a caddy some 100m away is my type of golfer. Laura was having dinner shouted for her on Friday night by another caddy who challenged her to sink a chip on the practice green within five shots Laura dis it with her first. With one hand, while looking at the caddy.
Any one who was asked to sign an autograph or have a picture taken was obliging and friendly I had my photo taken with Cheyenne Woods. As the niece of Tiger one might have expected her to be a little precious But no happy as Larry to stop her putting practice post round to say hello, have a chat about her round and pose with some old fat Carlton supporter. The rest were mostly the same although the red mist had descended on Stacey Lewis after taking two the get out a bunker on 13. She soon regained her smile as the resident kangaroos bounded past her on 15. The experience must have calmed her as she flew a wood some 200m to 6m to set up a an eagle chance. All these girls hi the ball solid and incredibility straight with one of the few to miss the fairway on a regular basis being the previously mentioned Ms Wie who had forgotten the adage that you can talk the fade, but a hook wont listen. Other were seriously long of the tee. Despite having only minor starts from the tee the men’s championship layout (279m in total ) they drive to gutta percha to places that would male all but the biggest men hitters full of envy. I’m talking regular tee shot of 250m with some approaching 280-90m and with bugger all run. And mostly cheatingly straight down the guts. They could have been playing a car park with the dense tree lined fairways there for their aesthetic rather than any real peril. Haven’t these girls hear of skin cancer and staying out od the sun. I put down my silking smooth skin to my prudent use of golf course shading and avoiding the middle bits at all costs. However, where I would go hit, F@*k, hit, bastard ball etc etc, these girls just go hit, smile, hit, smile ,wave.
The major highlight was the astonishing play of Lydia Ko NZ, amateur and 15 years of age and Koren’ Jiyai Shin. Both these girls would be at best 5′ 6” and several times SES workera had to be called into find Jijai in the deeper pots. However, both combine length off the tee with short games the equal of any male or female golfer in the world. Lydia keeps her focus and temperament as controlled as any athlete you wish to name and Jiyai just smiles and laughs while clinically dissecting the course and her opponents A smiling assassin and the baby assassin. Magnificent and fitting that these two players gapped the field to fight out the championship an the last day.
After a justifiably shaky start, the young amateur was four behind after two holes. Seven holes later she was back to one behind after Jiyai made two consecutive bogeys after she missed a green and fairway for the first time since she was in kindergarten. 15 year olds don’t do that that. They get the sulks and shot 93. Not Lydia. This kid is no US baby protégé. Yani Seng remembered why she’s the world number one, shooting 4 under on the front nine to get back in the hunt. Another 2 birdies after 13 holes put her right in the thick of thing as Smiler and the Baby started to look mortal and both getting a time warning on the 10th.
The back nine on Sunday. Who will flourish, who will fold? Yani birdies 15th, Lydia birdies 12 and Jiyai drops a shot on the same hole. The kid is back on level pegging and Yani is one behind. Everyone is still smiling. Please someone, throw a club or same shit really loudly. The Grinner chips in from the ball washer on 14 to take the lead, then does an on course interview where of course she is smiling. The kid bogies and drops two behind and drops her lip . That’s what teenager girls are supposed to do. Yani birdies 17 and is now only one behind playing the par five 18th. Jiyai has an eagle putt on 15 two putting to increase her lead back to two. Yani hits a quick snappy going for the green on 18 with her ball landing is Steve Rabilliad’s lap resulting in a messy par leaving Jiyai with some breathing which she used to smile her way to a 2 shot victory ahead of Yani and Lydia in 3rd. Some of her Korean co-players doused her in water, after which she collected the Patricia Bridges Bowl from the lady herself, before quickly grabbed her camera to have some pictures taken with a kangaroos before being denied entry to the clubhouse for wearing an inappropriate wet T-shirt. Great theatre, great fun and everyone smiled and they meant it.
How could you have any negative thoughts after such a great spectacle. Well those who know will be surprised if I don’t give something a spray. The only let down was the use of preferred lies throughout the tournament which was the result of “extreme hot condition and storms” that had hindered the course preparation. Horse hockey pucks. The course looks great on tele but closer observation revealed dead patches everywhere, which where painted green, disease from over watering and a thin grass cover on large areas of most fairways. The fairways have been crap for over 12 month as a result of a botched oversewing programme that had threatened the hosting of the tournament due to the substandard presentation. No one has played on the course the 4 weeks prior to the event and Royal has access to unlimited free water. It has been hot in Yarralumla, just as it been at the rest of Canberra’s course, but few are is as poor a nick as the fairways at Royal. That the preferred lies were a club length, rather than the usual card length gives you and indication of the shiftiness of some of the lies. There was no shortage of white paint indicating GUR in places that should be smoother than a baby bum. The greens were different speed and firmness. Sorry course super, you’ve had Barry here old mate. The sight of player moving the ball to positions that made their next shot a putt or easier diluted what was otherwise terrific golf play. Peter Thomson would have been having conniptions that player were getting relief rather than corporal punishment on a golf course.
That sadly will be the reason the Canberra is unlikely to see such a gathering again for a very, very long time which is such a shame. That said, want a privilege it has been to watch such wonderful ambassadors for golf and women’s sport in general. Hopefully some of the many young spectators who watched will be inspired to emulate the stars. I know that my companions and I cannot wait to hit the course a Mollymook this week with a refreshed enthusiasm that will most like be quickly extinguished by about the third hole. Still if a double bogey or three is the worse thing that happen in you day, things a pretty rosy.
So Thank you ladies. Thank you for renewing my love of golf and sport. A love that has been sorely tested in recent times.