Royal Pines: A champions breeding ground

The 2011 ANZ RACV Ladies Masters will continue its tradition of showcasing the finest golfing talent and discovering a new generation of world beaters.

To be played at the RACV Royal Pines Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast from February 10-13, the tournament has an enviable reputation for launching little known players on stellar careers.

Bob Tuohy and Karrie Webb Royal Pines: A champions breeding ground

It began in 1993 when tournament founder Bob Tuohy, an astute judge of talent, found a spot in the field for a young Swedish rookie named Annika Sorenstam. World No.1 Laura Davies won that year and Sorenstam finished four shots back in eighth place.

In 1994 Tuohy also staged the Women’s Australian Open in Adelaide and gave Sorenstam a start there as well. She broke through for her first professional win and followed it with another 89 victories around the world including 10 Major championships and three Ladies Masters.

The same year a shy young amateur from Ayr in outback Queensland was invited down to Royal Pines to see how the world’s best pros played. Her name was Karrie Webb and she finished second to Davies, still ranked No.1 in the world. From there her career blossomed and she now has 50 wins to her credit including seven at Royal Pines.

Described by Peter Thomson as Australia’s greatest golfer, Webb will be attempting to win the title for the eighth time and break her own Ladies European Tour record of seven wins in the one event. Next best is Sorenstam with six wins in the Swedish Open.

Se Ri Pak was invited into the field in 1997, aged 20 and unknown outside Korea, and finished sixth behind Canadian Gail Graham. The following year she won the first two of her five Majors and in 2007 was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame where she was later joined by Webb, Davies and Sorenstam.

In 2003 little known Mexican Lorena Ochoa was an invitee and finished fourth behind Davies. When she retired in 2010 she had been the world No.1 for three years and won 27 US LPGA events including two Majors. 
While the talent discovered to this point had been impressive, 2006 was a stand-out year. The title was won by amateur Amy Yang, a 16-year-old Korean high school student living on the Gold Coast. Cheered on by her classmates, she beat seasoned American campaigner Catherine Cartwright in a playoff. She remains the LET’s youngest winner and has since won twice as a pro in Europe.

Yang’s performance overshadowed Taiwanese amateur Yani Tseng who finished third, a shot out of the playoff. The next year she turned pro and three of her five wins to date on the US Tour are Majors.

Korea’s Ji-Yai Shin was the find of 2007, running second to Webb. In 2008 she won the British Open and is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.

This year, as usual, there are plenty of hugely talented young players looking for their first professional win at Royal Pines. American Alexis Thompson could be the one. She turned pro at 15 last year and won more than $330,000 from five starts. For those who look for omens, she plays the first round on her 16th birthday.

Greg Norman thinks Spanish beauty Belen Mozo, 22, has what it takes because he sponsors her. The 2006 British Amateur champion finished third at the US Tour School and is making her pro debut in Australia.

Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, 21, is also playing as a pro for the first time after winning her LET card at La Manga in Spain where she finished nine shots ahead of the field.

Carly Booth from Scotland caught the attention of Nick Faldo when she made the 2008 British Curtis Cup aged 16 and won her European Tour card at 17. As a member of Team Faldo she receives coaching and support from the six-times Major winner.

Can Webb, who is playing her 18th straight Ladies Masters, keep these youngsters at bay? On the evidence of 2010, when she shot a closing 61 to win by six shots from Katherine Hull and Korean Bo-Mee Lee, she is in with a big chance.

Network Ten and One HD will broadcast the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters on Saturday, February 12 and Sunday, February 13 between the hours of 2pm and 6pm. Tickets are available at the gate or via Ticketmaster