Weekend Wrap: Australian Open, Hero, NBC
Successful Australian Open's on the Sandbelt and Hovland takes the Hero. Plus, updating the Norman-McIlWoods manspat, more changes at NBC and a Links offer.
The weekend saw a sensational trio of finishes in Australia, with glorious Victoria allowing the men, women and adaptive players to shine. The Bahamas produced a mud ball-tinged Hero but also a reminder of who’s best in edgier conditions now that 2023’s majors are mere months away.
Before extensive notes on the Australian Open(s), Hero World Challenge, Norman’s feud with McIlWoods and more NBC golf team moves, I’m pleased to kick off The Quadrilateral’s holiday celebration of the written word with a special offer from Links. I’ll be contributing columns there in 2023 and can happily say the longtime golf architecture-driven publication continues to deliver under editor George Peper and publisher Jack Purcell.
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Buhai, Meronk, Popert Prevail At Glorious Victoria
Adrian Meronk held off boyhood hero Adam Scott with sensational ballstriking for weekend rounds of 63-66 and a five-stroke win in the ISPS HANDA Australian Open. It’s his second DP World Tour title of 2022 (Horizon Irish Open).
“I just looked how old this trophy is, it’s just incredible,” Meronk said. “I’m very proud and excited to be joining that company.”
The win sends Meronk into the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 (from 56th going into the week) and earns him a likely Masters invitation off the year-end exemption traditionally honored.
Meronk will be the first Masters contestant from Poland to drive down Magnolia Lane.
“I think I was leading almost the whole round but on the 13th I was just two ahead and then the 17th was a big hole for us, because I made a bogey, Adam made a double, so then I had three shots on the last hole and I knew if I hit it further, I had a good chance.”
Here is Meronk’s final hole eagle and robust post-win celebration with his girlfriend:
🇦🇺 Buhai Holds Off Australian Prodigy. Ashleigh Buhai fended off Jayai Shin and 21-year-old Grace Kim of Australia to cap a career best year that also included a major championship win at the AIG Women’s Open. Buhai was emotional in her 18th green interview upon realizing her unusual accomplishment of winning the Women’s Open and Australian Open.
“It’s the cherry on the top I guess. Sorry, it’s just hit me.”
The win was also notable with her husband Dave on the bag. He normally caddies for Jeongeun Lee but became a last minute addition.
“He was good today,” Buhai said. “It was a bit easier for him being inside the ropes than outside the ropes. You’re a little bit more in control. Got lots of friends and family here, it’s very cool.”
Kim, from Sydney, recently secured an LPGA Tour card and was tied for the lead until double bogeying the 18th.
🏴 Popert Comes From Three Back To Finish Off Dream Year. Kipp Popert was introduced to the golf world at the 2022 Open Championship’s Celebration of Champions. Having also qualified for The Amateur Championship this summer, Popert closed with a stunning three-under-par 69 to pass Canada’s Kurtis Barkley for the All Abilities title. The 24-year-old’s inspirational year continued as he deals with a form of cerebral palsy that’s meant undergoing ten operations since birth.
🤨 Ball Throw Tradition Leads To Chippy Finish. Julienne Soo apparently did not throw her ball far enough to reach fans after putting out at the 18th. Reports are not clear where the ball ended up in a tradition Australian fans enjoy, but the apparently-problematic ending locale prompted playing partner Marina Alex to point out that the ball was still in play for later groups.
I’m sad to report there was no hug between the Soo and Alex.
You can see the exchange here if such contretemps are your thing.
🍻 Smith Did Not Realize He Would Be Off Early. Reigning Champion Golfer of the Year Cameron Smith suggested after a third round 69 that he had not planned to be playing early and struggled to shake off a late Friday pub visit.
“I was pretty quick to the pub (after Friday’s round) and, yeah, was probably a few too many beers deep and then I realized we had an early tee time, so I got back on the waters and was a good boy the rest of the night,” Smith said.
He missed the third round cut to the chagrin (and fierce criticism) of those not wild about reducing the men’s and women’s fields to 30 players (each) on Sunday.
🇦🇺 151st Open qualifiers: Min Woo Lee (3rd), Haydn Barron (T4) and Alejandro Canizares (T4) were the top three qualifiers not already exempt to the The Open at Royal Liverpool. Lee and Barron are Australians, while Canizares is from Spain and recently lost his DP World Tour card.
Meronk and runner-up Adam Scott were already in The Open off 2022 finishes in the Race to Dubai and FedExCup, respectively.
Barron’s final hole eagle putt set the 26-year-old first-year pro up for a dream trip to the major he’s most wanted to play.
“It’s always been the one I’ve said to everyone that I’d want to win if I had the option,” said Barron.
“I love the history of it. I love playing golf in Scotland and I love playing golf in the UK and through Europe. That’s always been where I’ve wanted to kind of set my craft.”
The eagle putt from off the green and huge fan reaction:
Australia’s Tournament Trio Provides A Model For More
Tweaks are needed to field sizes and a Saturday cut left fans unable to see Cameron Smith despite a third round 69. Television did its best to keep track of three-competing conclusions on Sunday, but they did miss a few key moments in trying to balance the needs of competing championships finishing within just over an hour of each other.
But beyond these issues, it was impossible not to enjoy watching an event featuring men, women and in a fantastic addition to the proceedings, the all abilities players who delivered inspiring play on a fast, firm, perfectly-presented Sandbelt masterpiece.
Substantial weekend crowds brought plenty of energy obvious to anyone watching and some of that has to be attributed to the addition of women and adaptive players.
Hopefully this format originating at the Vic Open will surface elsewhere in the world. We could even dare dream that some version of this would make it to the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2029, especially now that the USGA has added an adaptive championship hosted there. I know, I know…but television. Or the precious men having to share the spotlight.
Still, we can dream and perhaps someone out there watching this mix of championships contested all at once will continue the momentum for more of these after a successful 2022 Australian Open.
Brendan James praised the week and notes some of the issues from trying to juggle three fields over two courses in one week. Ambitious yes, but as James notes, they got all of the big ticket items right.
Darren Walton talked to Golf Australia boss James Sutherland about the successful weeks and hopes of reprising it again next year in Sydney.
Hovland Holds Off Scheffler To Win Hero (Again)
Viktor Hovland captured the Hero World Challenge for the second consecutive year. He’s the first to do this since tournament host Tiger Woods in 2007. Hovland will move to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He also prevented Scheffler from returning to the top spot at season’s end.
Inclement weather meant tough first round conditions and wet fairways the rest of the way. It’s little wonder that the players with reputations for embracing difficult conditions ended up as the top 5:
Viktor Hovland 69-70-64-69—272 (-16)
Scottie Scheffler 72-68-66-68—274 (-14)
Cameron Young 71-69-68-68—276 (-12)
Xander Schauffele 72-68-69-68—277 (-11)
Justin Thomas 72-70-66-70—278 (-10)
After playing lift, clean and place the first two rounds, the PGA Tour rules staff played the ball down Saturday and the “mud ball” whining went viral.
The NBC gang covering the event agreed after seeing multiple shots fly in wild directions, yet in post-round remarks Hovland felt the mud was not a big deal.
“I had a couple (mud balls), but it honestly wasn’t that bad,” Hovland said. “Feel like I kind of got lucky on that side of it. I had a slight mud ball on 18, like flew a little bit weird, but I didn’t hit the greatest of shots. Just a couple weird ball flights here or there but it really didn’t make that big of a difference.”
Scheffler wondered if a new concept he’s used at home might be considered.
“I think with the Rules of Golf there might be something we can figure it out whether it's, I don't know, a lift, clean and drop or draw a line in the fairway where it's like hey, when you're inside this line up to the green, you don't clean your ball. That's what we do at home is like we'll clean our ball in the fairway, we don't clean it up by the green. That's just something we've done at home, Jordan and I and everybody's done it in the past and it works well. I don't know what works exactly in a tournament setting. It's nothing that anybody's really tried before.”
And they won’t any time soon.
As The LIV World Turns
In the latest Independent drop from Rory McIlroy’s conversation with Paul Kimmage, the Northern Irishman explained why he’s going to be a pain in Greg Norman’s side. This, even after the two had reached a truce earlier this year and bonded over blown final round Masters’.
Michael McEwan at Bunkered shared a non-paywall summary:
He says there was a pleasant exchange of messages between the pair, which McIlroy insists ended when he read an interview Norman did with the Washington Post a few weeks later.
“He said I’ve been ‘brainwashed by the PGA Tour’. I’m like, ‘For f**k sake!’ We’ve had this really nice back-and-forth and he says that about me.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible’. And that’s basically what I’ve done since.”
Meanwhile, Michael Catling of Today’s Golfer got Norman to respond to McIlroy and Tiger Woods’ calls for a departure as LIV CEO.
“I pay zero attention to McIlroy and Woods, right?" Norman told Today's Golfer.
Not right, but go Greg.
“They have their agenda for whatever reason. They're saying whatever they want to say. It has no bearing or effect on me. I'm going to be with LIV for a long, long period of time.”
“Of course it can happen under my leadership," Norman told Today's Golfer. "I mean, Tiger might be a messenger, right? Who knows. All I know is we are going to keep doing what we're doing with LIV, and we are just going to keep moving forward.”
Moving forward they are…with lawsuits and a schedule release planned for Monday.
LIV Golf lawyers are hoping to depose officials from the Tour Formerly Known As European and are making big claims about the
Strategic Alliance Operational Joint Venture Partnership with the PGA Tour, reports Alex Miceli.
And in a motion filed Friday to compel the testimony of a key figure close to Crown Prince MSM, Miceli says the PGA Tour is claiming Greg Norman is a mere figurehead as the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund runs LIV’s day-to-day operations and signs new golfers.
Meanwhile in venue news, the Tulsa World called for a local club to pass up a 2023 LIV event believed to be coming to Broken Arrow. The editorial came just 24 hours after Golf Oklahoma revealed a May, 2023 LIV event was targeted for Cedar Ridge Country Club, but the Tulsa World editorial page made a passionate plea for the club to “avoid associating with a rogue league controlled by a human rights-violating regime” and finished this way:
Oklahoma has a rich and honorable golf tradition, hosting PGA, LPGA and U.S. Opens at courses throughout the state. We do not want to sully that reputation by accepting a tournament that only attracts protestors, chaos, poor economic outcomes and ill will.
NBC/Golf Channel Moves: Leonard And Tappen Out, Faxon And Kaufman In
The “refresh” of NBC’s announce team continues according to Golfweek’s Adam Schupak.
Out: Justin Leonard, who is voluntarily leaving to play the PGA Tour Champions Tour but might pop in for a Ryder Cup cameo according to the report.
In: Brad Faxon and Smylie Kaufman. Both were part-timers on Golf Channel in 2022 and, according to Schupak’s story, each will work for NBC and Golf Channel in 2023.
Maybe: Curt Byrum. The story says the long time Golf Channel analyst may see more time on the network as well, but there was this curious element to his status given that it’s December:
When reached on the phone, Byrum said that his current contract expires in December and he’s “thrown his hat in the ring but nothing confirmed as of yet.”
Separate of Schupak’s story, I have confirmed with network sources that Kathryn Tappen’s one-year stint as NBC’s primary post-round interviewer is over.
Contacted for comment on the moves, an NBC spokesperson said the network is not yet prepared to discuss plans for 2023 but did not dispute the reporting.
We previously learned that Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie were not receiving new contracts despite still being on their A game and having committed no known offenses.
A couple of other quick-but-vital plugs in addition to the Links offer above:
McKellar is offering a new and pretty stunning box set featuring issues 3-6, ideal for the golf lover out there who doesn’t need another dozen overpriced balls. Check it out.
Spots are filling up on the UK Golf Guy’s five-day East Lothian trip that I’ll be joining next August in advance of the Walker Cup. So if you’re dreaming of golf trip plans in 2023 and didn’t have all your money in non-fungible tokens, check it out and also note David Jones’ fantastic voyages to the Highlands and Australia.
Most of the announcers on golf telecasts sound pretty much the same. Completely cowed, afraid of offending the players or the Tour, and are lost in either complimenting players are being good ball strikers, by the way which tour players isn’t? , or telling us how beautiful the course is and such. Geoff when will you share the ratings for these events? Lift, clean and cheat is so bogus.
Thought that trip would fill up in days..see you there.