Robert Allenby has basked in rarified air for eight years now for he achieved what Greg Norman never could at the height of his powers in an illustrious career – and that is to win the Triple Crown of Australian golf which is the PGA, Masters and Open titles in a single year.
The Shark twice won two of our three major championships in the same year – the 1984 Masters and PGA and the 1987 Masters and Open – but it was Allenby in 2005 who strung all three together in the space of just three weeks.
In fact, that was a first for Australian golf too. This week’s defending champion Peter Senior won the Johnnie Walker Classic, PGA and Masters in 1989 but that was over a four-week period with the South Australian Open slotted among those big three.
Now, Adam Scott is poised to join him after a marvelous past three weeks at home, sharing his Augusta green jacket with all and sundry while displaying the superb skills he used to become this country’s first Masters Champion.
Allenby will be trying his heart out to deny Scott yet another slice of Australian golfing history, not out of any malice towards the Queenslander but rather he wouldn’t mind his name on the Stonehaven Cup for a third time.
He won his first at Royal Sydney – venue for this week’s Emirates Australian Open – in 1994 and in 2008, the last time the Open was played at the immaculate Rose Bay layout, he finished one shot out of the playoff won by South African Tim Clark over Mathew Goggin.
“I hope I’m in the mix come Sunday but, if I’m not, I’ll be barracking for Scotty,” Allenby says.
“He’s playing great and has great knowledge of the Royal Sydney course. Maybe there is a bit of fatigue for him after all he’s done since he’s been home, proudly showing off the green jacket as he should be because all Australia wants to see it. What he did at Augusta was pretty awesome.
“If he went on to win this week, I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed. Not one little bit.. To say that I have a piece of history and share it with Australia’s only Masters Champion would be pretty cool.
Back in 2005, Allenby had a premonition that he could win all three major Australian titles. He told his caddie of the time – Dion Kipping – as much on the plane coming home from the US.
It wasn’t so much a boast, just a gut feeling. After all, a year earlier Peter Lonard won the Australian PGA and Open, but finished tied eighth final event of the year – the Masters.
But, he did have an injury problem. Three weeks before the first event – the Open – he cut the middle of his forehand when he fell on broken glass, thrusting his hand out to break his fall. The wound required stitches and they were removed just days before the tournament.
“After shooting nine under at Moonah (Links, the 2005 venue for the Open), I was in good stead to go on and win that tournament,” Allenby said.
Then, at Coolum for the PGA the following week, he needed to birdie the 72nd hole to beat the waiting Goggin, who fired a final round 63, by a shot. Just five birdies were forthcoming on the 18th that Sunday, but Allenby didn’t want a playoff.
“I told my caddie I had to make birdie, otherwise I would have missed the last flight out of Brisbane that night to head to Melbourne for my (Challenge Cancer) charity day on the Monday,” he said.
From 144 metres, Allenby hit an eight iron to less than a metre, and that was the end of the penny section.
Those next few days his thoughts of winning the final leg of the big three practically consumed his every waking moment – surely what Scott will be doing this week. Should he try to dismiss it from his mind, he’ll soon be reminded to the challenge ahead each time he faces the media inquisitors.
You need a bit of luck, as well as a ton of ability, to win three in a row – and maybe Scott had that in the Masters at Royal Melbourne when the visiting American Matt Kuchar took a double bogey after finding the right hand greenside trap to virtually hand Scott the title.
It was the same with Allenby in 2005. He was paired with Nick O’Hern, but four shots behind the WA lefthander, going into the final round. By the turn, it was all square but ahead Bubba Watson was making his challenge. That time, Allenby couldn’t avoid a playoff but his playoff record then was 8-0 in his favour, so he was optimistic.
But, it wasn’t a birdie to win that playoff, rather a regulation par while Watson three-putted.
Allenby’s form this year has been indifferent to say the least. In the 2013 PGA season, he made just five cuts, missing a massive 18 with one withdrawal in there as well. Now, after four tournaments on the wraparound 2014, he has missed two cuts in the four events played.
At one stage he even contemplated walking away from the game – “I was making silly mental errors, and it was just getting me down,” he says.
We asked: “if you had quit, what would you have done?”
“That’s a bloody good question. The thing was, I’d sold my boat so it wasn’t as if I could become a professional fisherman,” he replied.
“Why did you sell the boat? It was your pride and joy.”
“Divorce will do that won’t it,” he sighed.
But at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico last weekend, there was a glimpse of form. He finished tied 15th, but three-putted the 15th and 16th in the final round. On the 15th, his first putt was from around 14 metres and he wanted his caddie to hold the pin.
Allenby looked around, but there was no appearance your worship. The caddie was gone – and so was the golf bag.
Now, through the years, Allenby has had more than his share of sacking caddies, and indeed caddies sacking him. On one occasion, his bagman of the time who should remain nameless downed the bag and simply walked away – “He came back, he’d forgotten he’d left his wallet in the bag,” said Allenby, laughing.
That wasn’t the case in Mexico. His caddie became violently ill and had to head to the scrub to avoid embarrassment. Allenby, though it maybe cost him a few places on the leaderboard, was sympathetic for the poor chap.
Still, his play was cause for optimism coming into this week.
Yesterday on arrival in Sydney a day late from the US after flight diversions during storms in Dallas, Allenby headed straight to Castle Hill where the final round of the NSW Open was being played to catch up with Jarrod Lyle and chat with a few corporate types in Q&A type function.
Allenby, whose charity has raised millions of dollars for cancer sufferers through the years, has been close to Lyle while the big bloke has now fought and beaten leukemia, and is fall of admiration for Lyle in making the cut in the recent Australian Masters in a brief comeback to tournament golf.
“I’m thrilled that Jarrod just attempted to play the Masters, and to make the cut was an absolute miracle. It is just a remarkable story. He’s just an amazing fighter. It is just unbelievable,” Allenby said.
And, so say all of us.