Stacey Keating was out early practising at Victoria Golf Club today as she prepares for the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, as is her wont. But she might just as easily have stayed at home.
Keating has been a member at Victoria since 2006, and hence scarcely needs an introduction to the course or the nuances of the famous Melbourne sandbelt. "I've played it more times than probably anyone, except maybe Alison Whitaker,'' said Keating today. "She (Whitaker) has been a member here since she was quite young.''
The 27-year-old Keating, from Cressy in Victoria's western district, is among the top Australian contenders in this week's Open, with her excellent record on the Ladies European Tour, where she won two tournaments in as many weeks in 2012. She also won the Victorian Open at 13th Beach last year, a title she will defend on the Bellarine Peninsula next week.
"There's more expectation at home, obviously, but you have to handle that yourself,'' she said.
"Like any sandbelt course, I think it's a true test of golf. You have to play great shots and they're not necessarily always rewarded because it's going to play firm and fast by Thursday.''
Keating, ranked 115th in the world, is in a phase where she wants to take her golf to the next level, a fact reflected by her recent trip to the United States in an attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour. She departed with only conditional LPGA status for 2014, meaning she will retain her LET membership for 2014 and play throughout Europe, although she also intends playing a few tournaments in America. Possibly those starts could be on the secondary tour, or on the main tour if the invitations arrive. "I like it in Europe and development-wise, I think it's very good in Europe. You've got to be patient enough and grind it down until then.''
It is a hectic schedule for a young woman who loves the wide open spaces of home. "My home will always be here and any chance I get, I'll come back here. But it's rare.''
Victoria was chock-full of world class players in the Melbourne sunshine today as the field began filtering in, many of them off the plane from the Gold Coast where the Volvik Ladies Australian Masters was completed on Sunday. Most of the field from Royal Pines will be here for the $1.2 million tournament, which has a stronger look owing to the co-sanctioning arrangement with the LPGA.
Five of the world's top 10 players -- Suzann Pettersen (Norway), Stacy Lewis (USA), Lydia Ko (New Zealand), Karrie Webb (Australia) and Lexi Thompson (USA) -- are playing.
One late withdrawal is the defending champion Jiyai Shin of South Korea, who has pulled out of the LPGA and intends focusing on the Japanese tour this year. Shin won the Open at Royal Canberra last year, and has been a regular and popular visitor.