Golf is experiencing an Australian invasion

HARRY HOW / GETTY IMAGES Adam Scott putts during a practice round yesterday.
HARRY HOW / GETTY IMAGES Adam Scott putts during a practice round yesterday.
Posted: April 10, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. - John Monash was an Australian boy of common background who became a career soldier and rose through the ranks to become a general, famously fearless for leading his troops under fire, a Down Under version of Pershing or Patton.

In World War I, he received a knighthood on the battlefield for his bravery and innovation, especially during his duty on the brutal Western Front, where his involvement turned the war. His legacy as a gentleman and a public servant remains sacrosanct in his home country, where his name graces a university, a hospital and two towns.

A century later, a humble and accomplished Australian, Adam Scott, leads another group of proud and determined young men on a Western invasion that could shake golf's foundations.

The Aussie Seven will tee off tomorrow at the Masters. Not since 2008, when nine Aussies teed up, has the sport-crazed continent sent as many players to golf's most hallowed venue. Perhaps never have they had such a good chance to win.

After all, Scott is the defending champion, the sole Australian to win in the tournament's 77 years. Jason Day finished second and third in the two Masters he has completed. Steve Bowditch won in San Antonio 2 weeks ago. Matt Jones won last week in Houston. John Senden won 2 weeks before that and, soon to be 43, is playing the best golf of his life. Marc Leishman finished fourth at the Masters in 2013, which earned him another chance this year.

And Tiger Woods isn't playing.

Considering Woods' slow start and his injury issues, which knocked him out of this year's field, his presence might have meant less than in the past. Still, if Woods can walk, he can win. Ask Rocco Mediate.

He won't be walking or winning this year. In fact, a top-three finish from Scott would kick Woods out of the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.

A win from Scott might knock Phil Mickelson out of the top spot for most beloved non-Tiger golfer. Consider: A female patron shrieked, then nearly swooned, when golf's most eligible bachelor shook her hand as he approached the tee at No. 10 yesterday.

He's already beyond beloved in Australia, regardless of gender.

"Since Adam won [the Masters], Australia's been pretty abuzz with golf," said Jones, who won for the first time after 156 PGA Tour starts. "What he did for the Australian golf community is pretty great. I think a lot of Australian golfers fed off that."

"It definitely started last year, here, with 'Scotty' and Jason Day," said Bowditch, referring to Day's third-place finish and his one-stroke lead with three to play. Each has won since, too. "What those guys have done for Australian golf in the last year is unbelievable. When I played back in Australia this year in the Australian Open, I hadn't felt that buzz on a golf course since Norman days."

Golf will never supplant Australian Rules Football, rugby or cricket, but a star is a star; and Scott is a superstar.

Scott said, "If I keep doing what I'm doing, then hopefully more and more guys will keep playing well."

Scott noted that Geoff Ogilvie's U.S. Open win in 2006 gave Aussie golf a big boost.

Of course, there can never be another Greg Norman, whose 85 wins worldwide and 20 PGA Tour titles, including two British Open championships, made him an international superstar and hooked Australia on Masters television broadcasts, aired at 5 a.m. Sydney time.

Every Aussie golfer here got up and watched, as a boy.

But Norman was known as much for his eight second-place finishes in majors. His contemporaries were less accomplished: Steve Elkington and Wayne Grady each won the PGA Championship and Ian Baker-Finch took the British. Ogilvy was the only major winner among the next Aussie wave, which included Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby.

This should be the best group yet, a Norman-inspired band of brothers.

For instance, Bowditch was greeted by a trio of countrymen who waited an hour to watch him win: Senden; Scott Gardiner, the first PGA player of Australian aboriginal descent; and Aaron Baddeley, who has played in 29 majors.

Baddeley and Gardiner did not qualify for this year's Masters, but amateur Oliver Goss did.

"The more the better," Bowditch said.

Perhaps, if they're as good for the game as this group.

Norman never was as gracious as Scott. Day is a joy. Ogilvie and Appleby are professionals, but Allenby is famously prickly and dour.

Jones and Bowditch waited years to earn their way to Augusta, but neither is remarkably resentful. Bowditch has battled depression for years and attempted suicide in 2006; you know, in case you wanted somebody to root for.

"It is what it is," Bowditch said. "Everybody's dealt with something."

It's easier to deal with when you're surrounded by friends, and when your friends are pushing you.

"You love seeing your friends do really well. It gives you a little more pep in your step," said Bowditch, who hadn't won in 110 PGA Tour starts.

"I saw 'Bowdo' win and I thought, 'Why couldn't that be me the week of Houston?' " Jones said.

It was, when he chipped in on the first playoff hole and beat Matt Kuchar.

It took Scott 33 PGA Tour starts before he won. It took him 48 major starts, including the excruciating British Open collapse in 2012, before he won a major.

Now, with the first Aussie major since Ogilvy's, Scott is leading a legion of talent that is finding itself.

"Sometimes, it's hard for them to get the belief," said Phil Scott, Adam's father, who has known the members of the Aussie platoon for years. "Then, who knows? They might win eight, nine, 10 times in the next 3 years."

They might start here, on Sunday.

With Tiger sidelined and with Mickelson falling apart, Adam Scott, with 10 PGA Tour wins, could string together a run to equal or exceed Norman's career. Perhaps Scott will be honored like Sir John Monash; but then, wasn't knighthood discontinued in Australia 30 years ago?

"You know what? They just brought it back," Phil Scott said. "Two weeks ago."

Just in time.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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