Calm after the storm at MFS Australian Open

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2005 Australian Open | Round One | 24 Nov 2005
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After a controversial Wednesday, where most of the drama came from off the golf course, the real battle for the Australian Open began in gentle breezes and fine overhead conditions and those out early were not going to let this window of opportunity pass.

The storm that had been created by Mark Hensby’s suggestion yesterday that Greg Norman’s contribution to Australian golf could be greater was still bubbling in newspapers, on radio and amongst journalists at Moonah Links. How dare this upstart challenge arguably Australia’s greatest sporting icon, Greg Norman, seemed to be the general consensus but to his credit is that at least he was prepared to say what he thought. Others would say just how refreshing it was that somebody was prepared to say what they genuinely felt rather than what was necessarily the ’right’ thing to say.

As is so often the case with situations such as this the comments generated publicity for the event that the Australian Golf Union could not have hoped to pay for. In every paper and on every radio station in Victoria and indeed Australia, Hensby was the main story.

If anyone thought it would necessarily bother the play of Mark Hensby then clearly they did not understand the character that is Hensby. He birdied the par five second and then the par four third to get to two under and all this while playing with Robert Allenby who had been one to criticise the comments of Hensby the previous day. It was typically Hensby – not distracted by anything or anyone.

Also out early and making an almost immediate impact on the leaderboard were American Spencer Levin, who had played well as an amateur at the 2004 US Open and was adjusting to his career in professional golf, Lucas Parsons who has battled in recent years with a horror form slump, Robert Allenby, South Australian Adam Bland and new USPGA Tour recruit Nathan Green. They were all at three under at various stages early in the day highlighting the benign conditions that prevailed at that point.

Bland has been a professional for less than twelve months but he has already made an impact winning the 2005 Von Nida Tour Order of Merit including his win at the West Australian PGA Championship and while at times he struggled to get recognition as an amateur, he seems on track for a promising professional career.

Levin (pronounced Levine) moved ahead of the pack when he birdied the 10th and then when he eagled the par five thirteenth, after a three iron to five feet, he was still ahead but only by one over Robert Allenby and by two over Scott and Bland. Allenby was out in 32 despite a bogey at the third and when he added a birdie at the 10th he was hot on the heels of the American. With a birdie at the 12th he had taken a share of the lead.

Levin grabbed the lead back almost immediately when he birdied the 16th to move to seven under and when he holed from eight feet at the 18th he had recorded a round of 64 and led by one. He had also created a new course record at Moonah Links. The 21-year-old from California missed out at stage one qualifying at the USPGA Tour School a month ago but as an amateur he was considered talented enough to be considered the number two in both collegiate and amateur golf in the US behind Ryan Moore. Levin made the decision to come here on the suggestion of his manager Kevin Canning. He finished fifth at New South Wales Open last week and then pre qualified for this event by shooting 65 at Rosebud on Thursday.

Only forty five minutes after he had finished, Levin’s course record was already under threat. Robert Allenby, who had been plagued for much of this year by an arthritic like condition in his hands and had struggled – at least by his standards – for much of the year, moved to eight under with consecutive birdies at the 16th and 17th still had the par five 18th to play. A birdie there would see him take the lead and the chance to set his own course record. He eventually finished with a superb opening 63.

Immediately following the round of Allenby and his playing partner Mark Hensby we witnessed two intriguing press conferences. Hensby, who had finished with a opening round of 71, had the courage to front up to the press following the drama he had created yesterday and related the fact that one of the Norman’s minders had approached him on the practice fairway and given him Greg’s number to call this afternoon. Norman was clearly keen to discuss with Hensby the comments made yesterday.

“I was thinking about it today, sure, as a lot of people have approached me since but I also got a lot of support from players yesterday and today. I am more than happy to give Greg a call and we shall see where we go from there. Today I made a good start but I only played fourteen holes yesterday and that was in the wind so it was a different golf course.”

Hensby is clearly one who speaks his mind and cares little whether others agree with him or not. He said later that he has very few close friends on the PGA Tour but that such is the case with most others.

“The PGA Tour can be a lonely place as you spend a lot of time on your own.”

He castigated Allenby for the comments he had made yesterday in response his own comments on Norman but said that had not affected his play and that they had talked during the round. There is something refreshingly different about Hensby and there was a genuine feeling of respect amongst those who were present at his press conference today firstly because he was prepared to show up and secondly because he continued to speak openly and without reservation.

A minute or two later Allenby arrived in the media centre and after a birdie at the last he had recorded a first round 63 and he was the outright leader. A three putt bogey at the third seemed to kick start his round and for the man who, when he arrived of the plane on Monday, was still unsure as to whether he could play or not, it was a dream start.

“I hit all eighteen greens and the three putt at the third was the only real blemish. I had had two uphill putts at the first two holes which I had left short and decided to hit the putt at the third a little harder without fully taking into account the downhill nature of the putt.”

His back nine of 31 and that he did not miss a green all day were particularly impressive.

Allenby continues to be a day to day proposition due to an almost arthritic like condition but with the help of the PGA Tour’s fitness man Paul Trainor he has it under control at least so far this week.

As the afternoon field headed out it was clearly a more difficult course but Kurt Barnes and Geoff Ogilvy were proving early in their rounds that good scoring was still possible.

As midday approached the breezes remained gentle and from the north easterly direction they had come from all morning and began to increase in intensity and it was clear as is so often the case that those out early had received a great break.

Photo – Anthony Powter

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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