Clayton: Wide fairways suiting a widely travelled Japanese star - PGA of Australia

Clayton: Wide fairways suiting a widely travelled Japanese star

Royal Queensland is something of an odd golf course, certainly in terms of week-to-week professional golf and what players in Europe and the United States have grown used to.

The fairways are generously wide and with a few exceptions (the 14th hole – one of the few retained from the old course- is one particularly narrow fairway) difficult to miss.

The opening tee shot in any big event always involves some nerves, but no one is fearing the tee shot off the first at RQ.

It’s a free hit much like the opening drive at Royal Melbourne or St Andrews and not a place anyone is likely to mess up their day before it’s barely started.

As a rule, golf pros fall on the side of embracing the concept of equity of punishment and detest that two similar shots might finish up with wildly different results.

Ben Crenshaw, one half of the finest modern-day architectural firm once suggested: “Golf would not be a mystery if there were not instances of two different outcomes on the same shot”.

I’m sure the twice Masters champion would argue attempts to make the game “fair” lead to sanitised holes, devoid of quirk and nuance, something which was the essence of the original game in Scotland.

So much of what we see is golf between lines with all the trouble down the sides of holes.

Of course, the great lesson of The Old Course in St Andrews is there is trouble on a direct line to the hole.

Players can hit “perfect” drives into bunkers in the middle of the fairways but the measure of a shot should always be its position relative to the next one.

The holes with bunkers in the fairways at RQ are, for me at least, the most interesting to observe and players – and caddies – wrestle with the options and the width sees approach shots played from wildly different parts of the fairways.

The greatness of St Andrews and Royal Melbourne is that shots from one side of the holes can be so different from the shots from the opposite side of the fairway and there are few better ways to make the game interesting for the members who play the course every week.

One player who comes from a country where narrow fairways are more the rule than the exception is the 21-year-old Osaka-based Japanese, Ryo Hisatsune.

He came to the Australian PGA last year from Spain where he’d finished seventh in the European Tour School and finished second, a good enough result to guarantee his employment pretty much in 2024.

He’d played his way to exemptions on the Asian Tour as well as his home circuit but by winning the French Open in September, he put himself on the edge of this new top 10 in Europe exemption with the reward of a PGA Tour card in the United States.

Sure, Tiger Woods by winning the 1997 Masters at the same age was instantly exempt on every tour in the world but Hisatsune physically played his way to those exemptions by playing all five tours and earning his way. (Which is not to suggest Tiger didn’t earn his way – he clearly did that and more.)

Hisatsune played well enough in Dubai last week to guarantee his place on the American Tour and, back at RQ yesterday, he was around in 66 with a single bogey on the third hole.

In the 1980s when Jumbo Ozaki, Tommy Nakajima and Isao Aoki were dominating Japanese golf, their tour was almost as big, prizemoney wise, as the tour in America.

Few, as a consequence, felt the need to travel outside of their own country. The Americans weren’t much different and if we’d had forty tournaments for a million dollars a week it’s a reasonable assumption most Australians would have stayed home as well.

Instead, our equivalents of the great Japanese triumvirate – Greg Norman, David Graham, and Graham Marsh – collected frequent flier miles like 27-handicappers collect double-bogeys.

It’d be fair to say Australian pro golfers have travelled, out of necessity, pretty well and Japanese, out of not having to, less so.

One staggering recent example was at the Dunlop Phoenix tournament a couple of weeks ago in Miyazaki where a local amateur, Yuta Suguira, beat one of the strongest Japanese Tour fields, including this year’s PGA and US Open champions Brooks Koepka and Wyndham Clark.

If anyone had been paying attention to Suguira at the Asian Amateur at Royal Melbourne a month ago they could have watched the Japanese star, but only on the first two days because he missed the halfway cut.

Hisatsune is one who clearly relishes the travel and whilst the week is still young it’d be a surprise if he wasn’t in the middle of it come Sunday afternoon because if he’s proved anything in the 12 months since last year it’s that he can play a wide variety of golf courses.

Few though will be as wide as Royal Queensland. Or as interesting.

Author Mike Clayton led the redesign of Royal Queensland with John Sloan and Bruce Grant in 2006

Photo: Ryo Hisatsune on day one of the 2023 Australian PGA Championship (Getty Images)

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