Mention his accomplishment and Brad Faxon understandably expresses a sense of immense pride. After all, he followed in the footsteps of American golfers named Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
But that Australian Open victory? It came 20 years ago and his emotions are tinted in melancholy, because it seems like just yesterday and because it doesn’t seem like his passion toward that global challenge registers with today’s American player.
“I’d be there in a heartbeat,” said Faxon, when asked if he’d be teeing it up at Royal Sydney were he still a member of the PGA Tour.
He cherished his trips to Australia in the offseason and wonders if today’s players don’t owe it to themselves and the game to give it a try a few times. “It does take a big effort,” Faxon conceded, “but it’s something I think you need to do.”
Of the nine Americans who have won the Australian Open (J.C. Snead, Bill Rogers, Mark Calcavecchia, and John Morse also triumphed, in addition to those icons previously mentioned), Faxon’s name is most recent. Posting scores of 65-74-66-70 at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, at 13 under Faxon was two better than Mike Clayton and Jeff Woodland. But beyond the impressive list of Aussies who finished behind him – Greg Norman, Steve Elkington, Ian Baker-Finch, Wayne Grady, Robert Allenby, Rodger Davis, Brett Ogle, Peter O’Malley – Faxon’s American colleagues in that field included Curtis Strange, Raymond Floyd, Duffy Waldorf, and Morse – all PGA Tour-tested – and he bemoans that that landscape has changed.
At Royal Sydney this week, the field includes only one American with PGA Tour pedigree, Kevin Streelman. The only other Americans are John Young Kim, Garrett Sapp, and Eric Mina.
“Purses are up everywhere, but not in Australia,” Faxon said, begrudgingly accepting a fact of life that plays against American golfers going Down Under. “But if you talk about the national opens, you have the U.S. and the British, but I think the Australian is third.”
Sarazen was the first American to win Down Under, in 1936, and as sure as you know he went to the Sandbelt with his famed sand wedge, you know “The Squire” had a tougher time getting to Melbourne than today’s pros would. Seven other Americans have followed Sarazen into the winner’s circle at this storied tournament, which dates to 1904, but none more productively than Nicklaus, who prevailed six times.
Nicklaus’ first win, in 1964, and last, in 1978, serve as bookends to a 15-year period in which an American hoisted the championship hardware eight times. After a brief respite, Rogers, Watson, Calcavecchia, and Morse won, then Faxon did likewise in 1993.
He still considers the Stonehaven Cup a prized possession.
“I look at the etchings and there are so many iconic names,” Faxon said. “(Gary) Player, Nicklaus, Palmer, (Greg) Norman, (Peter) Thomson, Sarazen, Watson. You look at those names and you wonder, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to try and add your name to that list?’ “
Sadly, because an appreciation for history and a thirst for adventure aren’t what they used to be.
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TALK ABOUT THE SILLY SEASON: Max Ting, 13, will tee it up in the Hong Kong Open, as will Tianlang Guan, 15.
It’s gotten to the point where you want to say, “Hey, call me when a 10-year-old plays.”
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HE’S A TRAVELIN’ MAN: So, you think your 90-minute commute is tough in the morning? It doesn’t compare to the back-and-forth that has been Peter Lonard’s life in the last few months.
Of course, when you’re 46 and scrambling for playing opportunities or to secure status, you do what you have to do. It is a way of life for a journeyman golfer, even one who was once ranked within the top 50 in the world order.
Lonard played the last of his 19 Web.com Tour events in late August, but since he didn’t qualify for the season-ending Web.com Tour Finals, he knew his fall would be hectic.
And has it ever.
Lonard returned to his native Australia to play in the WA Open, then the Perth International the last two weeks in October. He hung around to play in the Aussie PGA and Aussie Masters, but then had to fly to California where he took part in the second stage of the Web.com Tour Q-School.
With birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 in his final round, Lonard finished in a share of 14th, advancing with a shot to spare.
He had plenty of time to savor that success, of course, because Lonard had another flight to Australia where he’s taking part in his country’s national open this week.
After that, Lonard will be back in the air, headed to the Dec. 12-17 Web.com Tour’s final stage of Q-School. After those six rounds, Lonard might then be able to return to his Florida home and take a rest, having piled up somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000-40,000 air miles
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THAT NOISE? IT’S CRICKET: Putting things in perspective, it might have been an exhilarating win by a pair of Aussies on home turf, but the sports pages’ lead headline the next day offered a true reflection as to what rules Down Under: “Ruthless Aussies Take Ashes Lead.”
That’s right, cricket. In all due respect to Jason Day’s individual win and Adam Scott’s brilliant finish to help fuel a 10-stroke World Cup of Golf victory, the sport that grabs their fancy is cricket – especially when it involves an Ashes victory over England.
Day’s victory did score big points, however, thanks to the human emotions. Eight members of his family had been killed in the Philippines tycoon and his mother, Dening, and sister, Kim, walked along at Royal Melbourne to celebrate the victory.
“To be with the family, the win is the best thing that happened after the disaster in the Philippines,” said Dening.