HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Robert Allenby wandered onto the practice putting green at Harbour Town Golf Links late Monday afternoon and straight to Stuart Appleby There was no “Hello.” No “G’Day, mate.” Just smiles.
Less than 24 hours earlier Allenby, Appleby and the entirety of Australia were lifted from an 0-for-76 schneid with a twisting 12-footer for birdie on the second playoff hole at the Masters.
The national heartache that essentially began in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus stormed past Australian Greg Norman to win the Masters was washed away by Sunday’s rain and Adam Scott’s determined victory over Angel Cabrera.
“I was thinking about it when I went to bed. I woke up thinking about it. How awesome it would be for Australia,” said Appleby, who watched the historic event unfold from his couch back home in Orlando, Fla. “I hope we do manage to get on with it for Australia, but I think we can gloat on this glory for a while.”
Sydney’s Greg Chalmers was equally effusive: “To win that one and I guess kill off the ghosts for previous major championships for not just himself but for all of us other Australians was special.”
For decades Australians have awoken every Masters Monday hoping this would be the year a player from Oz would finally claim a green jacket, and every year a nation moped off to work or school disappointed.
“You feel like you finally got over the hump to win that tournament,” Chalmers said. “As a golf fan I grew up watching Norman. I remember watching them all; ’86 (when Nicklaus played his final nine holes in 30 shots and clipped Norman by a stroke) was the first Masters I ever watched. You live with Greg Norman’s heartache. He was everyone’s hero growing up.”
That mantle has been officially passed to Scott and the weight lifted from all of Australia.
It had been a swoon – dubbed the “Aussie duck,” duck being a cricket term meaning zero – that had grown exponentially with each near miss.
Norman was clipped by Larry Mize, who chipped in at the 11th hole in a playoff in 1987. In 1996 the Shark led by six strokes through 54 holes but posted a closing-nine 40 to lose to Nick Faldo by five shots.
“It’s massive,” Allenby said. “No Aussie to ever win the Masters and Scotty is the first one. It’s everyone’s dream in Australia. We woke up for so many years back home watching Norman come so, so close and hoping he was going to have at least one, two, three green jackets of his own. For so many years he was cheated, really.”
In 2011, it appeared either Scott or Jason Day would finally deliver the green jacket Down Under, but Charl Schwartzel closed with four consecutive birdies and the Australian duo finished two strokes back.
In many ways it was like Norman all over again.
The baffling part is it should have been so easy, so obvious. As Geoff Ogilvy once pointed out, “Augusta National is just Royal Melbourne (both courses were designed by Alister MacKenzie) with greener grass,” and Australia has had no shortage of world-class players.
“The pressure that was on him must have been humongous,” Allenby said. “I’m over the moon that Scotty won, because he deserved to win the (2011) British Open. I could tell something good was going to come out of it.”
As Australians congregated at this week’s RBC Heritage, however, the conversation quickly turned from the past to the future. Golf in Australia has struggled in recent years, boxed in by waning interest and economic headwinds.
The hope is Scott’s victory on Sunday did more than just end a winless streak. The feeling is the coveted green jacket could inject some much-needed energy into Australian golf.
“This is huge for Adam, him and Jason (Day) have led Australia in quality golf the last couple of years. To see Adam lose the British (Open), it was tough as a country. You keep saying, ‘Man, man,’” Appleby said. “To see him make that putt is huge. Now Aussies have got ourselves our first Masters.”
Late Sunday, Allenby sent a text message to Scott that metaphorically spoke for an entire nation: “You made my bottle of Grange taste even better.”