Since its staging at the adjacent Royal Adelaide those 22 years ago the event has been played in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra at some of Australia’s best layouts including Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Yarra Yarra, The Victoria Golf Club, Royal Sydney and Royal Canberra amongst others.
In 2016, however, a revamped West Course at the Grange Golf Club layout gets its opportunity to showcase itself to not only an Australian audience but, through the event’s association with the LPGA, to a worldwide one.
Originally played in 1974, the event was played for the next five years before a sixteen year hiatus, returning in 1994 and, apart from 1999 when the scheduling required a realignment, the Australian Women’s Open, has been played every year since.
Karrie Webb has been the most prolific winner of the title having won on five occasions, the last of which came in 2014. The Championship has been won by some of the game’s greats including Annika Sorenstam whose win at Royal Adelaide in 1994 kick started the greatest career in women’s golf.
It was Sorenstam’s first win as a professional and she would go on to win another 92 including ten major championships. Perhaps surprisingly the 1994 win was Sorenstam’s only win in this particular event.
Laura Davies and Yani Tseng are the only other multiple winners, aside from Webb, both having won the event twice.
Official World number ones to have won this title while they were number one are Yani Tseng and Lydia Ko although this year current world number one Ko starts the event as the defending champion and the favourite after her impressive recent form including a win in Christchurch last week.
This week’s field is not particularly strong given that it is an LPGA event and a national open of some significance with only three players from the world top twelve in the field although all three are in fine form and expected to provide a great contest.
The three are Ko, the recent winner in Florida, Ha Na Jang, and Canadian 18 year old, Brooke Henderson.
Ko arrives in Adelaide following a narrow but emotional win in Christchurch last week and a 3rd place in her only other start in 2016 in Florida the week prior. Given her success on Australian golf courses in both amateur and professional events she should find this layout of no concern and starts the event as the raging hot favourite.
Ha Na Jang however is a Korean with significant upside. She emerged as one of the rising stars of Women’s golf with a superb rookie season in 2015 during which, although she did not win, she finished runner-up on four occasions. Jang then won at her first start of 2016 when successful at the Coates Championship in Florida two weeks ago so she arrives as one of the players likely to challenge the favourite.
While on the subject of future stars there is perhaps none more exciting than Henderson who moved to 11th in the world ranking with her runner-up finish to Jang in Florida recently.
Henderson forced her way onto the LPGA Tour with a win after Monday qualifying at the Portland Classic in August of last year. Not only did she win but she won by eight shots and in doing so became the first Canadian to win on the LPGA Tour since 2001. Her victory left the LPGA Tour with no option than to make her a member of the LPGA Tour despite their policy of such membership being restricted to 18 year olds an over.
Korean Ji Yai Shin is a former world number one who was the rookie of the year on both the Korean LPGA and LPGA Tours. Shin has won two Women’s British Opens and 2013 held off Yani Tseng to win the Australian Women’s Open in Canberra. While the 27 year old now longer plays the LPGA Tour (by choice) she has become a prolific winner on the Japan LPGA Tour and her chances this week cannot be dismissed.
Jiyai Shin is not without her chances of a second Australian Open (photo Bruce Young)
Minjee Lee has now become Australia’s highest world ranked player (17th) and recorded a very impressive rookie year on the LPGA Tour in 2015, winning once and securing more than US$800,000 in earnings. Lee started her LPGA Tour career relatively slowly (although she did finish 7th at the Australian Women’s Open last year) but found her feet as the year went on and is expected to be in the mix on Sunday.
Karrie Webb is already a five-time winner of this event but her game at present is well below her best. Whether she can turn that around remains to be seen but her presence in the event alone will attract a lot of interest.
Can Webb possibly win a 6th Australian Open? (photo Golf Australia)
England’s Charley Hull is another young player making her mark on the LPGA Tour with a solid rookie season in 2015. She finished the at the Women’s Australian Open last year and having finished 8th in Florida two weeks ago then she might be one to challenge the favourites.
For many years there has been a call to take the Australian Men’s Open to cities other than Sydney and Melbourne but the introduction of Canberra and Adelaide into the rotation of this event offers golf fans in those areas the chance to see some of the game’s best and in the case of Ko, the very best.
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