A couple of kids from regional New South Wales, Steve Elkington and Rachel Hetherington amassed wonderful careers despite spending much of their time playing second fiddle to fellow Australians dominating world golf in a manner matched by few in history.
With a place in the quarter-finals up for grabs, Elkington and Hetherington now face off as our search for Australia’s Greatest Golfer starts to heat up.
Greg Norman rose to No.1 in the world for the first time in September 1986 three months prior to Elkington earning a PGA TOUR card at Qualifying School, a position he also held when Elkington recorded his breakthrough victory at the 1990 Greater Greensboro Open.
It would be the first of 10 PGA TOUR titles for the Inverell-born, Wagga Wagga-raised Elkington. One of only six players – and the only Australian – to have claimed The Players Championship on multiple occasions (1991 and 1997), Elkington is best known for his 1995 US PGA Championship triumph at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
After Ernie Els had posted the lowest three-round total in major championship history to lead heading into the final round, Elkington began Sunday trailing by six strokes and in need of a combination of fabulous play and a dose of good fortune.
“You can’t just think a guy is going to walk way with it,” was Elkington’s approach and with an aggressive mindset played the round of his life, three straight birdies from the iconic 10th hole propelling him past Els and toward a record final round of 7-under 64.
Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie tied Elkington’s four-round total of 267 – at the time a PGA Championship low – but a birdie putt from 25 feet at the first playoff hole secured Elkington’s place in golf immortality.
As Elkington excelled in the shadow of Norman, Hetherington was establishing herself as one of the world’s best players yet often second-best to Karrie Webb.
The only two Australians with more LPGA Tour titles than Hetherington both have a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame yet the Port Macquarie-raised Hetherington never received the fanfare her results deserved.
Her first LPGA Tour win came in her second season in 1998 and a year later she won twice, a feat she would repeat in 2003.
Teaming up with Webb the pair claimed the 2000 Women’s World Cup of Golf in Malaysia and in 2001 Hetherington won the Evian Masters, 12 years before it was elevated to become the fifth major in women’s golf.
But if you need any further proof of just how Hetherington handled herself in elite company you need only look at her LPGA Tour playoff record where she was triumphant in four of five occasions, three times getting the better of Swedish superstar Annika Sorenstam.
Three times Hetherington was runner-up at the Women’s Australian Open (to Sorenstam, Webb and Laura Davies no less) and in 2001 she was runner-up at the ANZ Ladies Masters to – you guessed it – Karrie Webb.
They spent their careers largely out of the spotlight yet their accomplishments mark them as two of the greatest this country has ever produced.
Career wins: 17
Major wins: 1 (1995 US PGA Championship)
PGA TOUR wins: 10
Australasian Tour wins: 1
Australian Open: Won (1992)
Australian PGA: T44 (2003)
Career wins: 11
LPGA Tour wins: 8
Ladies European Tour wins: 3
ALPG Tour wins: 1
Women’s Australian Open: 2nd (1994, 2000, 2006)
ANZ Ladies Masters: 2nd (2001)