Appleby secures Grand win in Queensland

BY | Australasian PGA Tour | 2001 Australian Open | Wrap | 25 Nov 2001
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Surrounded in controversy since the decision to stage the event here was made some fifteen months ago, the Grand Golf Club in the Gold Coast hinterland exceeded all expectations in terms of its success as a tournament venue for the 2001 Holden Australian Open.

Sure there were a couple of golf holes that caused their share of grief for the quality field assembled and it may be that changes to the those same holes will be made in the future but in terms of assessing the facility’s capacity to stage the event then I believe there will many who will reassess their initial thoughts.

One look at the leaderboard tells the story that the venue produced a worthy champion and most of those who should have been were in contention.

The holes that proved to be most contentious were the par four eleventh, the par five twelfth and the par four thirteenth. The eleventh was converted from a par five to a par four for the event and as has been often shown in the past this doe not always work. The green was originally designed to accommodate a short approach from just short of the water to set up a birdie four after a second from the top of the hill. Those prepared to take their chances attacking the green with their second did so at their risk. During the tournament however the tee had been brought forward and therefore all drives were clearing the ridge and feeding down to the left hand side of the fairway typically gathering in the rough and therefore leaving an almost impossible shot to from the rough to a firm green.

To a very large extent that was more the fault of the hole setup rather than the hole itself. It was impossible to keep it on the fairway and as a result the scores mounted. Suffice to say however that the winner Appleby played the hole in one under for the week with three pars and a last day birdie to match that of his playing partner.

The par five twelfth for mine does need some changes, albeit minor to provide a fairer approach. The trees protecting the middle of the aerial approach to the green are somewhat unfair as they provide too much an element of luck in that regard. One or two trees removed could turn this into one of the very best of par fives. Many accidents were waiting to happen here during the event and many did. Even Appleby was able to recover from a triple bogey eight there on the first day and then on Sunday when Geoff Ogilvy was making such a charge to get very much into contention he was brought undone by a triple there himself.
I see nothing wrong in being forced to shape a second shot round a couple of trees especially when gambling on reaching a par five. Where the hole needs to be improved however is to remove a couple of those trees to allow more room on either side to shape the shot.

The par four thirteenth however is, in my opinion, a little unfair as despite the fact there is a left and right option to avoid the trees in the middle of the fairway’s landing area, the left hand option cambered down to the trees providing an element of luck to even the best tee shot.

The par four tenth also came under a little criticism but not so much by the players. It is a short almost reachable par four but as all good holes of that type should be the risk and reward are evenly balanced. Taking an aggressive approach can mean a long bunker shot from those guarding the front right of the green to a green sloping very heavily from front to back. Mind you those taking this option know the dangers before they hit their tee shot. I think it is one of those short holes every good course should have get it right and you get the reward get it wrong and pay the consequences.

Stuart Appleby came into the event after having missed the cut last week at the Australian PGA mainly due to a virus. He had worked hard on his game during that weekend and it was clear both his health and game were improving each day. The year 2001 had not been great to him but not bad either. Never in serious contention he had finished fifth at the NEC in August that being his best finish of the year. In fact he had not won in more than two and a half years since his win at the Houston Open in 1999. That he was able to finish off this win in such a decisive fashion bears testimony to his great game and mental strength. It is true that he was up against a player relatively inexperienced in this situation in Scott Laycock but the manner in which he (Appleby) recovered from his triple bogey on Thursday and overcame the tenacious Laycock was a source of true satisfaction to him.

Laycock had only won one event as a professional coming into this week but by having the continuity that a full card in Japan has provided him this season his game has developed to a new level. His run of top finishes in Japan of late suggested that this may well be his summer in Australia.

Laycock and Appleby staged a gripping duel trading birdies over four consecutive holes in the middle of the final round and on four of the course’s most dangerous holes. When Laycock birdied the par three fourteenth they were level again and it seemed likely to go down to the wire. All of a sudden however within two holes Appleby had drawn three clear and there wasn’t really a bad shot amongst it. He just missed the green at the short par four fifteenth hit a reasonable trap shot and missed from seven feet and then at the four iron par three 16th he just missed the green right, putted from the fringe ten feet past and missed a putt that he and many others thought he had made. When Appleby followed that in from eight feet for birdie, the margin had now become three strokes and too great for anyone to catch.

Laycock parred the last two to finish three behind and so Stuart Appleby became the eighth Australian in the last ten years to take his national title.

Other performances of note were those of Els whose class both on and off course was evident in the way he handled his responsibility as the number one ranked player at the event, Rod Pampling who continues to show his development as a player, Geoff Ogilvy who despite his high and low scores throughout the week continues to impress and Charles Howell whose last round 67 got him into the top ten. Howell impressed all with his engaging manner off course and great golfing skills on course. He is being touted as the next Tiger Woods and whilst it may be a long time before we see another Tiger this guy has it all.

Thomas Bjorn had his moments and was making a move to a high finish on Sunday when a disastrous quintuple bogey five at the par four ninth brought him undone. He showed enough during the week to confirm his reputation as one of the game’s leading players however and the tournament was the better for having him, Els and Howell involved as the invited guests.

The changing nature of the Grand on a daily basis was interesting. Day one under tough windy conditions produced twelve rounds under par, day two under calm conditions there were twenty two, on Saturday when the wind got up and the greens that much firmer only eight rounds and on the final day when overnight rain had softened the course twenty three rounds under par. The leading twelve players on day four were collectively 41 under par suggesting that the course provided a range of conditions during the week.

As I suggested at the start, the Grand had been a controversial decision but it performed better than expected in every respect. It is not the greatest Australian Open venue there has ever been but no one was suggesting it was. At a time when the event needed to be taken to Australia it proved to be worthy interim measure. In years to come Queensland will get further Open Championships at more regular intervals than the twenty eight years since the last one. They may be on courses such as Hope Island, The Glades or Brookwater but the Grand more than held its own.

To suggest as some have done that the Australian Open is the domain of traditional courses of Victoria and New South Wales is to fly in the face of reason and indeed justice. To suggest that the Open should only be played on bent greens is like saying that tennis events like the French Open should not be a Grand Slam event because they play on clay.

The Australian Open is an event for the golfing public of Australia. Congratulations to the Australian Golf Union for having the courage to stand firm against the initial tide of opinion against such a decision. In the end they were proved more right than wrong.

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