by Mike Clayton @The Lakes
Abraham Ancer from Mexico is one player who has treated the lakes. Image: Getty
Few would dare suggest that this is one of the strongest fields of the Australian Open
Jack Nicklaus seduced an American star line to join him in the seventies in what was essentially Kerry Packer's Open. Those days are long gone, not least because there is now a meaning for American Tour events that are being played in October and November.
The Tour has conspired to start the 2019 season in 2018, thus ensuring the services of players who are looking for a quick start of the money list. So quickly that after three events the player on the eleventh of the money list had exceeded the total career stallion of Sam Snead in income. The Virginian great won 82 times for those who wondered …
Although our three best players are lacking in action, the scores at The Lakes were high this week with modern professional standards, especially on a course below 6400 meters.
One reason is that the first three days were played with the wind from the south. It shot the tee at the first the hardest opening shot in the country and more than one messed up.
With the wind blowing the other way, the 14th, a short par five over water, is an easy four, but in the wind it is a dangerously seductive hole that offers its share of the bogeys. Astonishingly on the first day, it averaged about five.
After the third, the most difficult par four on the track, there is a series of short holes all the way through to the 12th. A pair – the eighth and eleventh – are par-fives, but the short holes (seven and nine) aside, there are a whole series of wedge shots.
Merion in Philadelphia is another job, a brilliant one, with a long series of short holes through the middle but the scores at US Opens remain steadfast because the hard holes on both sides of the middle are very hard and they use grass for a long time as a hazard along the narrow fairways.
The fairways are generously wide at The Lakes except the 10th and it is so narrow that everyone hits the tee. Only Wayne Grady was accurate enough to hit a driver between the outside limits on the left and the danger on the right, but he has been in the television studio for almost twenty years.
High rough is a curse on the ideal course, because who wants to look for balls or, as annoyingly, cut out with loft wedges?
It punishes the idiosyncratic but there are more interesting ways to punish skewed drivers. The fairways on the front nine are covered with visible, wind-blown sand and natural water on the back nine threatens the tee-shots, but the real defense of the course is the wind. For three days it was blown from the south and most members would suggest that it is the true sign of the course.
As Cameron Smith noted after his opening 74 on Thursday, the greens are soft by traditional Australian standards, but they hardly differ from the standard rate on the golf courses of most professional golf tours around the world. Although not ideal, soft greens can make playing in the wind more problematic, since players who see a low continuous shot up to the hole cut at the back of the green will find everything but lost and fly the ball back instead. If there are problems for a long time, it is an uncomfortable proposition.
Abraham Ancer clearly solved the puzzle on the third day, made nine birdies, the last one came after a great five wood all the way to the back of the 17th green, where a bank helped to turn his ball inside to about ten meters of the cup.
He leads the Australian Amateur champion, Keita Nakajima from Japan with five shots, but where he makes up for the deficit and wins, it would be one of the most remarkable doubles in Australian golf history. A couple including Jim Ferrier, Bruce Devlin and Bob Shearer have one, but to do it ten months apart would really be something.