Home » Golf Australia boss: Idea to grant Australian Open winner majors starts would ‘elevate our event, our tour’ – Australian Golf Digest

Golf Australia boss: Idea to grant Australian Open winner majors starts would ‘elevate our event, our tour’ – Australian Golf Digest

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Golf Australia chief executive James Sutherland has encouraged golf’s powerbrokers to consider the idea to award the Australian Open winner an exemption into all four majors, saying it would “elevate our event and our tour”.

Australian Golf Digest spoke to Sutherland at the par-5 13th hole at Augusta National during the final round of the 88th Masters and asked him about former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley’s comments about the Australian Open, aired on Wednesday at the Masters on a post-game show previewing the divide between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. McGinley suggested that offering the winner of the Australian, French and Japan Opens a start in the next year’s four majors was a magic bullet to the problem of LIV golfers being frozen out of golf’s biggest championships.

“Joaquin Niemann [won the 2023 Australian Open at The Lakes and The Australian]. Why not make the winner of the Australian Open exempt to all four majors and not the Masters? Pick a tournament in Asia, maybe the Japan Open, and one in Europe. The French Open comes to mind because it is the oldest title in the world. And maybe down in South America. Talk about growing the game? That would take the world’s best players to those places.”

Sutherland said it was a genuinely productive idea.

“It would elevate our open and our tour; we welcome ideas and suggestions like that,” Sutherland told Australian Golf Digest. “If the Australian Open winner got a start in the four majors, it would make the event bigger on every level, and would make a lot of positive noise in golf.”

Sutherland also praised the comments of Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley. In his state-of-the-union press conference on Wednesday, Ridley said LIV golfer Joaquin Niemann was awarded a special invitation to the Masters because of his willingness to search for the world ranking points he needed to break back inside the world’s top 50, points LIV does not offer. “He went to Australia, played very well there, finished fourth in the Australian PGA, won the Australian Open, one of the great, great championships in the world,” Ridley said.

Added Sutherland: “One of the best parts about being at the Masters is hearing golf’s most powerful figures praise our national open, both our events [including the Australian PGA]. The Australian Open [1904] is one of the oldest tournaments in golf. The list of champions includes many of the great players. Fred Ridley knows that, and Paul McGinley knows that because he came down to Australia and played our great championships.”

Niemann, from Chile, won the 2023 Australian Open.

McGinley’s proposal is a solution to the problem of LIV golf stars losing their access to the four majors, given the majors use the world rankings but LIV does not receive points. LIV player Patrick Reed’s five years’ worth of eligibility to the four majors was based off his world ranking and 2018 Masters win, but they dropped off for this year. This week’s Masters was the only major he is currently in for 2024. Joaquin Niemann had to wait for a special invitation to the Masters and a similar exemption into the PGA Championship.

Recent major winners on LIV, like Australia’s Cam Smith and Brooks Koepka, have years to worry about that problem. But characters such as Bryson DeChambeau (2020 US Open win) will soon fall off a majors cliff unless they compile top-five results and wins in the majors in the near future.

While the move is inconceivable, it would be a win for multiples markets around the golf world, particularly Australia. LIV golfers would no doubt utilise the offer, but plenty of PGA Tour and DP World Tour pros would treat it as a working holiday with a bonus of locking up a start in the majors. The only way to do achieve that safety blanket currently is to be among the top 30 who advance to the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship.

The Australian Open and PGA are co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour and do manage to attract quality Australasian and European players. The Australian Open also offers three spots in the British Open for being a stop on the R&A’s International Qualifying Series. Few would complain about the guaranteed starts in the Masters, US Open and PGA as the option would be available to any pro.

The Australian Open has struggled in the past two decades to attract the swath of big names it used to in its glory days of the 1960s, ’70s, 80’s and 90s. Recently, the event has attempted to sign one marquee player each year to headline the event. Rory McIlroy won the 2013 edition at Royal Sydney while Jordan Spieth claimed the 2014 and 2016 Stonehaven Cup titles.

That is in addition to hoping the big-name locals all come home for the summer, such as Cam Smith, Adam Scott, Min Woo Lee, Cam Davis, Lucas Herbert and Marc Leishman.

Australia’s quality courses, particularly the Melbourne Sandbelt, already have the adulation of the top pros. Melbourne has been rumoured to host the 2024 Australian Open although nothing has been confirmed by organisers.

As 1991 Open champion Ian Baker-Finch told reporters at Augusta on Wednesday, “Rory McIlroy has said to me, ‘Hey, you make sure you tell me when they’re going to Kingston Heath and I’ll come down.”

Four-time major winner McIlroy has been particularly vocal about the Australian Open. The Northern Irishman first tasted Victorian golf when he came down as an amateur in 2005, before winning the Open over Adam Scott in 2013. He returned the next year for The Australian Golf Club.

“I would certainly like to see more co-sanctioned events,” McIlroy said in November. “Some of the national opens, [we need to] try to revitalise some of those that have some great history in our game and a lot of tradition, like the Australian Open. I look at the the Australian Open trophy, and I see the names on that and that’s, to me, that’s being a professional golfer and being competitive is all about. It’s being able to try to compare yourself to previous generations.”

McIlroy won the Australian Open at Royal Sydney in 2013, defeating Adam Scott.

Sutherland said he would love to see the Northern Irish star Down Under again.

“Rory’s place in the game is immense and everyone listens to what he has to say,” Sutherland said. “He is a top player who appreciates national opens and made the effort to come down to our tournaments, and won the Open. We would love to get him back, see him play the Australian Open. We know he has a deep love for the Melbourne Sandbelt.”