Are Australian Golfers Too Nice?

Are Australian Golfers Too Nice?

Until he won the 2004 International, Rod Pampling of Australia was known for his historic performance at the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. That’s where he shot a first-round 71 to lead the field but politely excused himself with a second-round 86 to miss the cut. Fast-forward to Sunday. Perhaps feeling bad that NBC’s ratings might dip if he ran away with the Bay Hill Invitational, Pampling politely double-bogeyed the 13th hole to lose the last of his four-stroke lead to start the day. Alas, England’s Greg Owen re-gifted the tournament back to Pampling, who notched his second Tour W in spite of his largesse.

Are Australians too nice? With 23 of them on Tour, and the notoriety they’ve earned thanks to W’s this year by Pampling, Geoff Ogilvy (WGC Accenture Match Play) and Stuart Appleby (Mercedes), the question is impossible to ignore. When is one going to win a major already? Not since Steve Elkington won the 1995 PGA has an Aussie come up big in a big-four event.

They’ve come close. Mark Hensby tied for 5th at the 2005 Masters, and tied for third at the U.S. Open. Ogilvy tied for 5th at the 2005 British Open, and for 6th at the ’05 PGA at Baltusrol, where Elkington tied for 2nd.

Then again, they haven’t come close. Appleby, 34, has missed the cut in five of his nine Masters starts, with a best finish of—drum roll, please—T21. He’s MC’d in six of his nine U.S. Open starts, with a T10 in 1998. We all remember his T2 at the 2002 British Open, and who could forget his T4 at the 2000 PGA? Oh, never mind.

It’s not surprising that the cantankerous Elk is the last Australian to win a major; he’s got a fearsome mean streak. One time he missed the cut and, since he was one of the few Aussies in the field, was chased into the parking lot by Australian golf writer Andrew Both, who broke the ice with this beauty: “Steve … Steve … Can I get a quick minute or should I just go f*%! myself?”

Elkington laughed—and obliged.

Pampling is so anonymous he’s been mistaken for Both. “I just didn’t have [Both’s] little glasses,” Pampling said at a press conference, eliciting a laugh.

Greg Norman had some nastiness, but not enough. Lee Trevino had it. It’s that sharp edge that comes in handy when comes time to deliver. Just ask Russell Crowe, the angry Aussie who’s proof that passivity is not a national character flaw. Here’s how it works for Crowe: As soon as he is provoked he picks up a telephone and hurls it at the nearest hotel employee, which through the miracle of telecommunication translates to him winning the Oscar for best actor. That anger may have skipped a generation of Australian golfers, happy blokes who seem to be in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place, wrong time, but never the right place, right time.

Case in point: Every year Jesper Parnevik throws the wildest New Year’s party on Tour at his glassy, gorgeous home in Jupiter, Florida. A few years ago, one of his former caddies threw a punch at someone, and while he missed his intended target, he did land the punch. Who got cold-cocked? An Australian golfer.

Consider that before Owen three-putted from three feet at Bay Hill on Sunday, the worst meltdown, non-major division, was by Aussie Steve Allan at the 2004 Reno-Tahoe Open. Leading by two strokes and having driven his ball in the fairway on the 72nd hole, Allan chunked his wedge approach, bladed his bunker shot over the green, and made double-bogey. Not surprisingly, he lost the playoff. Nowadays Allan’s name appears only in the small print of the Tour media guide, misspelled.

It’s gotten so bad for the Aussies that Pampling was recently criticized by countryman Ian Baker-Finch, who from the TV tower called Pampling, “one-dimensional.”

“I don’t know,” Pampling said last week when asked what he made of Baker-Finch’s comment. “I’ll have to ask him one of these days, I suppose. I don’t know, maybe I just look boring on the golf course.”

As rebuttals go it wasn’t exactly Crowe hurling his handset, but what did you expect?

Take Adam Scott. Take him to meet your parents, take him to get his picture taken with your lovestruck kid sister, take him bowling. Scott is so nice he’ll go. You want face time with Tiger? No go. Not with two forms of ID, proof of vaccinations and a note from your editor.

Of course Scott is only 25, and could yet develop some attitude. Ditto for Ogilvy, 28. He beat Michael Campbell in the first round of the Match Play, which is one reason why Campbell told me recently that Ogilvy is his pick to win the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Elkington isn’t done yet, but he’s getting up there at 43. Craig Parry just hit 40 and is more than likely on the downside of his career. Hensby is only 33, and his perma-scowl recalls gladiator Crowe before he made tiger jerky, which is just as promising as his record in the ’05 majors.

Pampling, 36, also tied for 5th at last year’s Masters. Bay Hill? It was a nice W for the Texas transplant and his fans Down Under, some of whom were dealing with Tropical Cyclone Larry, but the way he won didn’t inspire confidence, and who covets the navy jacket? Even Arnie won’t remember who won in a few weeks. If Pampling wants to impress Baker-Finch and the rest of us, if he really wants respect, we only need one win, Rodney. Let’s see you back into that little tuna mint down in ‘Gusta.

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