Aussie rules on the tour: Golfers from Down Under creating a buzz with five PGA wins already this year
Aaron Baddeley thinks it's the sports training institutes. Adam Scott thinks it's the junior programs. Stuart Appleby thinks it's a little of both. Whatever theory you ascribe to, what can not be disputed is that there's never been a better time to be an Australian on the PGA Tour. Of the 18 official events this year, Aussies have won five. A check of the official world golf ranking reveals a dozen guys from Down Under in the top 100. Of the 156 players in the Wachovia Championship, which began yesterday, 13 are Australians.
Canada, on the other hand, has just three players here. And one of them, Stephen Ames, honed his game in Trinidad.
"They have proper institutions," said Ames when asked about the Aussie advantage. "I've seen the facilities. Oh, my God, they're tremendous. They have golf schools galore with proper facilities to train in. We need that in Canada."
"We took a step (in Canada) a few years ago and got a development program going but it needs to continue to improve and evolve," said Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont.
Scott, who was tied with Geoff Ogilvy and John Senden as top Aussie yesterday with a one-under 71, said his nation's strength comes from junior foundations set up by the likes of legend Greg Norman and Appleby.
"The expert help is there at the sports institutes when you get better, but so many young kids get involved it would be a shame if we weren't producing good players."
"I'd say it's a combination of the institutes of sport we have in Australia and just seeing other Australians do it, from Adam and myself to Stuart and Geoff Ogilvy," Baddeley told the Star. "People think, `I used to play with those guys. Maybe I can do it, too.'
"I was in the Victoria institute when I was 16," Baddeley said. "I think there were 16 boys and six girls. We lived at home so it wasn't part of school. But you'd spend Monday playing or at the range, then Thursday at the range. And there were tournaments. There was always a head coach and an assistant coach. You name it, we had it."
Appleby, a two-time winner on tour this year, was in the first group that went through the Victoria institute.
"It's evolved a lot since then and got a lot more rounded in its philosophy. It's coaching, diet, mental, physical, preparation, financial, everything."
Appleby said there's lots of camaraderie amongst the tour's Aussie contingent.
"But this sport is mostly about guys in their 30s onwards so you have families. Those (other) guys are still young and still in the stud category," he said with a laugh. "So they, uh, do what they want, basically." In an interview with the Denver Post last year, Ogilvy said it's impossible to overestimate the importance Norman had when he was winning on the tour.
"People forget, but he was like Tiger Woods 15 years ago, especially in Australia," he said. "He created pandemonium.
"Before Greg Norman, there was a feeling among Australians that `Those guys on the PGA Tour are better than us; we might as well just go to Europe to play.' Now everybody comes over here and expects to do well.''
Senden told the Post that some of it is due to the type of people who play golf in Australia.
"The guys coming out of Australia come from a lower economic class than American players, generally. American players come out of country clubs and they don't have the drive to get to where they need to.'' While there are plenty of Aussies near the top of the leader board, day one at the prestigious Wachovia went to Americans Jim Furyk and Bill Haas and South Africans Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini, each of whom finished at four-under 68.
Retief Goosen shot a two-under 70, while Ames, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els each recorded 71s. Weir had an up-and-down round and came in at one-over 73, while Ian Leggatt of Cambridge shot 75.
By JIM BYERS SPORTS REPORTER CHARLOTTE, N. C.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited