Pride at stake at the Australian Open

When the Australian Open commences on Thursday at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney you won’t be seeing a leaderboard full of top international names.

Apart from Justin Rose, Tom Watson and 14-year-old Chinese prodigy Guan Tianliang, the international representation is just not there.

Adam Scott Previous Australian Open champion, Adam Scott (Credit: Anthony Powter)

That aside, don’t be too quick to discard our national title, which Jack Nicklaus is on record as referring to as ‘golf’s fifth Major’, as this year’s Australian Open could mark the new dawn for young professional Aussie talent.

Jake Higginbottom, who just turned professional last week after winning the New Zealand Open, Matt Stieger who won the NSW PGA title on the weekend from only his sixth professional start and Daniel Nisbet, are all in their rookie professional year and despite their short tenure in the pro ranks continue to bank results.

An Australian Open crown is not beyond their grasp and with golf’s winners continuing to be in their early 20′s, victory to a young gun would certainly do no damage towards raising the Australian Open’s profile.

Australia has eight golfers ranked in the world top 100 and we continue to box well above our weight on the international stage.

Most have made the pilgrimage in an attempt to have their name etched on the Stonehaven Cup alongside Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Gene Sarazen.

Marc Leishman, the only Australian winner on the PGA Tour this year, defending champion Greg Chalmers, world number five, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, John Senden and Jason Day will be at The Lakes this week.

But the field is nothing like what it would have been 20 or 30 years ago, let alone last year when a number of the Americans including Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods tuned their game before the Presidents Cup in Melbourne.

The passage of time from the Australian Open’s golden years has seen such references as ‘the fifth Major’ slip away to become more of a reminder of the tournament’s heyday and the international esteem that was once attached to the event.

The expansion of the US and European Tours into Asian markets has also cramped Australia’s room in the crowded golf calendar, leaving the tournaments struggling to attract sponsorship.

Sponsorship money is hard to come by and the Australian Open tournament dates invariably clash with more lucrative events overseas.

Total prize money this week is $1.25 million, a modest prize pool compared to the riches of the US and European Tour.

This Australian Open might not have the international profile that it once enjoyed but there is pride at stake for those competing and it will sure make for an exciting event.