It’s been a banner year on the PGA Tour for the men from Down Under.
Led by world No. 1 Jason Day, Australians have combined for eight victories this year on Tour, the latest coming when grizzled veteran Rod Pampling held off a pair of challengers to snag the trophy at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
When we look back on the year that was for the island nation, Day’s elite play will stand out, as will Adam Scott returning to the winner’s circle twice in successive weeks back in March. But the other three winners from Oz proved that the game goes deeper than just a handful of household names, and that sometimes good things can come to those who wait.
At age 47, Pampling now has his third PGA Tour title but first since the 2006 Arnold Palmer Invitational. That’s a span of 220 starts between victories, which seems hefty until compared to the plight of Pampling’s countryman Greg Chalmers. Chalmers was 0-for his career until the Barracuda Championship in July, where he earned win No. 1 in his 386th career start.
Just two weeks after Chalmers’ breakthrough, Aussie Aaron Baddeley ended a victory drought of his own at the Barbasol Championship, racing around the final green to celebrate his first win in nearly six years.
Now it’s Pampling’s turn, who like Chalmers and Baddeley before him has turned one week at an event without much fanfare into a watershed moment and a two-year Tour exemption.
“It’s kind of like a big wheel. It seems to be the Australians are starting to kick it in again,” Pampling said. “We were dormant for a little while there, but Jason, Scotty and those guys have just kicked it on. Just glad to grab one of those spokes and be a part of that big wheel.”
That wheel has been turning a bit slowly in recent years for Pampling. Back in 2013 he went an entire season without a top-25 finish for the first time since 2001, resulting in a demotion to the Web.com Tour. There he toiled for two years, unable to return to the main circuit while spending his mid-40s competing against players half his age.
But Pampling returned to the winner’s circle in May 2015 on the Web.com Tour, and this fall regained his card with a trio of top-25 finishes in the abbreviated Web.com Tour Finals. Now he has an exemption that will nearly stretch to his 50th birthday in Sept. 2019, when he’ll become eligible for the PGA Tour Champions.
“It’s just the self-belief that I know it’s still in there. The body feels healthy. I know I have the game for out here,” Pampling said. “It was just being patient and grinding out there on the Web Tour. It’s extremely hard out there, but it certainly gives you the confidence that you can compete against the younger guys and come out here.”
Often times, the “opposite” events and fall tournaments are seen as a young man’s prize. It’s a chance for rising prospects to catch their big break and quickly vault up a few levels, as Cody Gribble did last week at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
But Pampling, Chalmers and Baddeley are proof that these events can also provide a huge lift to players who are sometimes well past their prime. It’s a recent trend that also includes another Aussie, Geoff Ogilvy, who used a win at the 2013 Barracuda Championship to reinstate his status and made a run all the way to the Tour Championship a few weeks later.
Day and Scott are Australia’s most notable major champions, the two names with which fans most easily identify. But they aren’t the only Aussies to look back on 2016 with a smile, as Pampling is the latest example that out on Tour, one good week can translate into years of job security.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” Pampling said. “Coming back from what we had the last few years, to get a win under the belt, it’s phenomenal. It’s just amazing.”