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Vic Open offers much intrigue despite missing stars

The superb 13th Beach Golf Links on the Bellarine Peninsula
The PGA Tour of Australasia joins forces with the European and LPGA Tours this week in an innovative approach to tournament golf which might have long term bearings on the professional game.

For the very first occasion an LPGA event will be played concurrently alongside a men’s event with equal prizemoney for the two events.

The Vic Open is a continuation of a theme developed first in 2012 when Joe Klatten and Scott Arnold won their respective titles in the event although back then the women played their opening round at Woodlands Golf Club before joining the men at Spring Valley.

The following year the event moved to the Bellarine Peninsula to the south and west of Melbourne and to the dual layout venue at 13th Beach and the momentum and nature of the event has built from there.

After several years as a joint arrangement between the Australasian and Ladies European Tour, 2019 sees the event take on an even greater dimension with a European Tour and an LPGA Tour joining the party over the same venue for the same prizemoney, a concept that has the golfing world watching with interest.

That the Ladies European Tour is no longer a sanctioning party has caused some angst especially given the lack of star power provided by the LPGA Tour. 

The innovation offered an opportunity for women’s golf to support the concept of equal prizemoney and while there can be some excuses due to the relatively late notice of the LPGA Tour’s involvement, the lack of support of the game’s leading female golfers is a blow for organisers.

Only four of the leading fifty players in the world are in the field, although another, Brooke Henderson, was scheduled to play the event prior to contracting an illness preventing her from traveling.

Those players are defending champion Minjee Lee, Georgia Hall, Charley Hull and Pernilla Lindberg although to be fair two of those won major championships in 2018 and Lee finished second to only Ariya Jutanugarn on the 2018 LPGA Tour money list.

The men’s event, too, is lacking in strength given its now European Tour status with Spain’s Adrian Otaegui (69), South Africa’s Justin Harding (73), Australia’s Lucas Herbert (75), Jazz Janewattananond (79), Ryan Fox (85) and Yuta Ikeda (99) the only six from the world top 100 in the men’s field.

Spain's Adrian Otaegui the leading men's ranked player

Nonetheless, the concept has attracted much interest in an era where there is so much discussion on the relative merits of equal prize-money, especially with play for both events over 72 holes. It is perhaps disappointing that many of the female game's leading players did not see it that way and the ground the event could make in the equality of prize-money discussion.

Tournament organisers however can only be praised for developing this event from a regional Australian event into one that will now have many of the golfing world's organising bodies and golf fans generally watching to see just how well the two events will marry up.

Lee is the defending champion and has won the Vic Open on two occasions and after such a  stunning year in 2018 she is expected to start favourite, winning first as an amateur in 2013 then winning by a massive five shots last year.

Minjee Lee heads the women's field

Georgia Hall has also been a winner of the event having won in 2016 and following her breakthrough LPGA Tour and major victory at Royal Lytham & St Annes last year then she is expected to be one to watch. Hall finished 3rd to Lee in the event last year in addition to her win three years ago.

So too will Lindberg who took her game to a new level last year by winning the ANA Inspiration. She finished 5th in this event last year and so has form on the golf course. Lindberg was married in New Zealand only recently.

Australians expected to also do well are Su Oh, who has played the event well in the past, as has Hannah Green who negotiated her way through a rookie season on the LPGA Tour well enough last season and who tied for third at the Vic Open last year.

In the men’s event Spain’s Adrian Otaegui showed some impressive form late in 2018 on the European Tour including when 4th at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai and when 3rd in Turkey. He finished 24th in Saudi Arabia last week.

Lucas Herbert is essentially playing a home game this week for the first time as a European Tour cardholder and after a 7th place finish in Dubai two weeks ago it would seem he is primed to follow an outstanding first season in Europe where he played his way onto the European Tour essentially via invite.

Ryan Fox appears to be finding some very good form with a 6th place finish in Saudi Arabia last year and Jason Scrivener just keeps getting better, putting together a number of very solid finishes of late including when 7th in Saudi Arabia last week.

The carrot for so many of the strong 'Australasian Tour status only' contingent in this field is that victory would offer them European Tour status in addition to a fair chunk of the A$1.5 million prize-money on offer for the men.

The same could be said for several of those in the women’s field who by winning would secure LPGA Tour status and, with the absence of so many of the game’s best, the door is open for such an eventuality.

It might not necessarily be a field of the highest quality but the event's interest and impact will be felt around the world. 

  

     

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