Cameron Smith will dominate early news from RACV Royal Pines as he attempts to win his third Australian PGA. So too will American Cameron Champ and his prodigious driving. But the “old brigade” shouldn’t be dismissed before the first ball is struck if the recent Australian Open is anything to go by.
Stephen Allan, Peter Lonard and Nathan Green were among the 40 somethings to put their name high on the leaderboard at The Australian Golf Club at times, but it was left hander Greg Chalmers who led the charge, finishing in a tie for fifth in his first tournament start since the PGA Championship in 2018.
Chalmers was returning to competition for the first time since being diagnosed with a torn ligament in his spine and arthritis, the two-time winner of the Joe Kirkwood Cup happy to simply make it to the first tee on Thursday.
Having nearly grabbed an Open Championship berth at The Australian, Chalmers now turns his attention to the other major piece of silverware in Australian golf. And despite the conditions being slightly less suited to the older players without the distance advantage of the likes of Champ, the man known as ‘Snake’ has high hopes this week.
RIGHT: Major winner Stewart Cink is part of the 40-plus crowdn looking to take home the Kirkwood Cup this week. PHOTO: Chris Hyde/Getty Images.
“I did play last year down here, but that was more just to see after six months if I could play, and I couldn't,” Chalmers said. “So got it fixed this year and I think I was four over after nine at the Australian Open. Pretty much what I expected, a lot of rubbish and a lot of rust, but wiped it off quickly.
“Both courses where I've won, Coolum and here, you can hit it any length, you don't have to be super powerful. Power's always going to be an advantage, but any length can be successful. This golf course can put a lot of pressure on your iron play. That's not necessarily a strength of mine, but it does also, if you miss the green, it puts a lot of pressure on your short game and that is a strength of mine.”
Chalmers’ return to tournament golf is one that was at times unlikely. The 46-year-old telling the media at Royal Pines he looked into other work during his injury lay off. But deep down held a desire to continue doing the job he has done around the world for over 20 years.
Part of the early success of the comeback attributed to arguably the hottest coach in professional golf at the moment, Bradley Hughes.
Hughes, a renowned ball striker during his own playing career, has helped his student known as one of the best putters on Tour become a more complete player. One who has discovered he can’t prepare the way he once did if he is to compete with the next wave of players.
“What I do now prior to playing is vastly different than what I used to do, and how I practice now is vastly different. I go a lot more for quality than I do for quantity,” the two-time Australian Open winner said.
“In the past when I was a kid and younger I would have tried to wear you out just by outworking you. Now I have to try and be smarter about it and get my confidence from shorter, sharper sessions and a bit of quality.”
Joining Chalmers in the group of players approaching the over-50s PGA Tour Champions teeing it up on the Gold Coast this week is major winner Stewart Cink.
The American similarly confident of his chances when competing against the younger generation of players.
“I would like to leave here with a trophy, that's the goal,” Cink said Tuesday. “I've played golf a long time and I feel like if you set your sights highest and you really dial it in and try to achieve the best, you're more likely to maybe get there.
“I feel like I'm playing as well as I've played in my whole career. And as I get older now, I'm 46, my perspective and my expectations probably are changing a little bit, but I feel like if you break down the way … if you break down golf into the categories, you know, the short game and all that, I think that I'm playing better golf now than I've played any time in my career.”
Like Chalmers, Cink had an enforced time away from professional golf as his wife, and caddie this week, Lisa battled breast cancer.
Still undergoing treatment, Lisa proved an inspiration for Cink to work harder at his game when many would forgive him for winding down after a career where he won six times on the PGA Tour, including his defeat of Tom Watson to win the Claret Jug in 2009.
“Watching her (Lisa) dig in and fighting with everything she had through the time of her diagnosis and her chemotherapy in 2016, it really caused me to sort of turn the mirror around and look at myself and say, well, if she's fighting like this, what am I not doing? I'm not fighting for my life necessarily, but I've got something pretty important to me and our family to fight for,” Cink said.
“It opened my eyes a little bit and I dug around in some corners that maybe I hadn't dug around in for a few years and it gave me a new sense of intensity and intention when I was out there practicing every day and going through all the off the course things I need to do. You know, the result was it showed up in better scores and it gave me sort of this new confidence that I think I can compete and I can carry this all the way past my 50th birthday and who knows what happens after that.”
Seemingly no longer a time to think of the no-cut events and retirement fund building prospects of senior Tours around the world as their next chance to be seriously competitive, players in their 40s are now, through the combination of improved fitness, equipment and other factors, remaining competitive with the young players coming through. And if things go to plan for Cink, Chalmers and co this week, the Australian PGA Championship could be just the latest event to prove they still have game and aren’t disappearing into the shadows just yet.
“For me it's a break but it's also the lure of that (Champions Tour),” Chalmers said. “I'm also cognizant of I'm 46, I don't just want to tread water. I would actually like to see if I can play at a high level right now, so I'm trying to prepare myself to do that rather than wait and killing four years for no reason.
“And look, I played with a lot of young kids like in the last little bit and I get a fire in me about playing with these young guys and sort of trying to beat them. Played some practice rounds there at the Australian Open with some young guys. Lovely guys, but in my head I'm thinking I really want to beat these guys.”