World golf is quickly becoming accustomed to seeing the Australian flag at the top of a leaderboard in 2020.
In the space of six weeks, six Aussie men have won events in Hong Kong, Dubai, Hawaii, Victoria and two in California and when the game’s elite gather in Mexico this week the Australian flag will again be prominent.
PGA TOUR winners Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman and Adam Scott will all be there along with some new names that perhaps require some introduction for those beyond Down Under.
Globetrotter Scott Hend has played in 10 World Golf Championships previously but for Zach Murray and Lucas Herbert, the WGC-Mexico Championship represents another important step in their professional golf development.
Murray and Kiwi Ryan Fox earned their place in the field as the top two finishers on the 2019 PGA TOUR of Australasia Order of Merit while Herbert’s victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic propelled him to such a lofty position on the European Tour Race to Dubai rankings that he too will tee it up against 43 of the world’s top 50 golfers, including current and former world No.1s Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Lee Westwood and Genesis Invitational winner Adam Scott.
Twelve months ago Jake McLeod got a taste of playing against the big boys, Min Woo Lee’s Vic Open victory means he too will soon join golf’s top echelon while the likes of Anthony Quayle, Maverick Antcliff, Cameron Davis, Ryan Ruffels, Travis Smyth, Brett Coletta and Jarryd Felton continue to establish their credentials as young pros of promise.
Prior to departing for Mexico, Murray was reminded by his father Craig that he has been a professional for some 400-odd days and after picking the brains of McLeod and veteran Matt Millar is chomping at the bit to step up to the next level.
“I can’t wait. It’s been a really quick transition for me,” Murray explained, winner of the 2019 New Zealand Open and tied for 21st at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January after receiving a late invitation to play.
“Dad messaged me last night reminding me that I’ve been a pro for 400-something days. It’s all still very new for me but I’ve settled in quite nicely.
“Going over to play a World Golf Championship hasn’t really sunk in. It just feels like I’m going to another golf tournament but I know it’s not just another golf tournament.
“It’s the pinnacle apart from the majors. Once I get there and see the enormity of the tournament, that will be when it sinks in.”
At 430th in the world, Murray is ranked ahead of only Korean Tae Hee Lee (510) of those playing at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City this week yet the laconic 22-year-old from Corowa is adamant that the names don’t faze him.
Whilst the travails of travel may weigh heavily at times, the golf course is Murray’s sanctuary, whether playing with mates at Metropolitan Golf Club prior to leaving Australia or alongside the best fields that golf can assemble.
Sharing a locker room with McIlroy in particular will remind Murray of just how far he has come in such a short space of time but he is confident such illustrious company will only help to elevate his game even further.
“Golf’s never the issue for me,” Murray said.
“Obviously I get the nerves about playing but that doesn’t worry me whereas the travel part for me does worry me.
“Getting onto the golf course for me is a bit of an escape from things sometimes which is good.
“I’m fortunate that I don’t get overawed by that stuff. There are other aspects of my life that take a fair bit of maintaining but that part of it excites me. I don’t get scared by it, which is good.
“I enjoy playing with the better players.”
In finishing second to Fox on the Order of Merit, Murray earned a 2020 European Tour card and after two events is already sitting 58th in the Race to Dubai.
He joins Herbert, Lee and McLeod as Aussies 25 and younger on the European Tour and believes they can all benefit by sticking together.
“We’re all very different individuals so it’s hard to talk to each other about what you’re doing but the best thing for us to do is to try and stick together when we can,” Murray said.
“It’s tough travelling on your own sometimes so when we can try and stay at the same hotels so we can have dinner.
“I think that’s the most important thing.
“Being so young and having success so early, it’s very difficult to appreciate what I’ve been able to achieve and what I’ve got coming up.
“It is quite a good achievement for a young person to be out on the European Tour so quickly and if you take a step back, it is super important to know that you can compete.
“I was leading (in Abu Dhabi) a couple of times. First round I was leading and I had the lead halfway through the second round and that’s instilled a lot of confidence in me.
“Even playing down at Thirteenth Beach I felt very comfortable and I was in and around the lead for most of the week.
“It’s just nice going to a golf tournament thinking about trying to win rather than trying to finish top 20 or make the cut.
“It’s just how the brain changes when it learns how it can compete at every golf tournament you go to basically.
“It’s a very nice feeling.”
Aussie Winners in 2020
Wade Ormsby – Hong Kong Open (Asian Tour), January 12
Cameron Smith – Sony Open (PGA TOUR), January 12
Lucas Herbert – Omega Dubai Desert Classic (European Tour), January 26
Marc Leishman – Farmers Insurance Open (PGA TOUR), January 26
Min Woo Lee – ISPS HANDA Vic Open (European Tour), February 9
Adam Scott – Genesis Invitational (PGA TOUR), February 16