WA Open – A history of making Major champions

5th Sep 2023

The Nexus Advisernet Bowra & O’Dea WA Open has a proud history of champions who have gone on to win Major championships, from the great Greg Norman and Gary Player to Kel Nagle and Ian Baker-Finch.

First staged in 1913, the championship is one of the most storied events on the PGA Tour of Australasia and here we take a look at the WA Open’s Major winners, as well as some more of the tournament’s pre-eminent champions.

Greg Norman, 1986 Lake Karrinyup CC | 276 (72, 70, 66, 68)

WA Open Greg Norman

Greg Norman was aged 31 and at the peak of his powers when, in 1986 at Lake Karrinyup, the ‘Great White Shark’ became arguably the WA Open’s most high-profile winner.

Norman’s victory was his 10th tournament success during a stand-out 1986 in which he had already won his first major at the Open Championship and was only one shot from winning both The Masters and the US Open.

The WA Open was Norman’s 29th and last tournament of that year, while he also won the state opens of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia to underline his support of the Australian golf scene.

Ian Baker-Finch, 1984 Royal Perth GC | 276 (70, 67, 67, 68)

Ian Baker-Finch’s WA Open victory in 1984 proved to be a watershed moment for his career. At that stage, the Queenslander’s only Australian Tour win had arrived at the 1983 New Zealand Open, while he had also been runner-up at that year’s Australian Open.

Two months after tasting success on the fairways of Royal Perth, Baker-Finch made his mark on the world stage as he led the Open Championship heading into the final round at St. Andrews, only to be over-run and claim a ninth-placed finish behind winner Seve Ballesteros.

He would, however, etch his name on the Claret Jug seven years later at Royal Birkdale where he won by two shots from fellow Aussie Mike Harwood.

Baker-Finch was just 23 when he won the WA Open in convincing style – his opening-round 70 was the ‘worst’ of his week – and would go on to claim 18 victories in total around the world, including two on the PGA Tour.

Gary Player, 1956 Mount Lawley GC | 289 (69, 72, 74, 74)

Gary Player was aged 20,  his professional career just taking off, when he won the 1956 WA Open at Mount Lawley by five shots from young Cottesloe amateur Len Thomas.

The South African’s record-breaking career took flight thereafter, most significantly when he claimed the first of his nine Majors at the 1959 Open Championship.

Player would go on to claim the career Grand Slam, becoming just the third player to manage the feat, and remains the only non-American to have captured all four of golf’s Major Championships. The other four players to have achieved the career Grand Slam are Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Player was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 before winning the last of his majors at the 1978 Masters at Augusta.

Kel Nagle

1952 Royal Perth GC | 286 (72, 69, 73, 72)
1950 The Western Australian GC | 283 (72, 69, 69, 73)
1951 Lake Karrinyup | 286 (69, 72. 73, 72)

Future World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Kel Nagle was 29 when he won his first WA Open in 1950 at the WA Golf Club. It was the precursor to a decorated career that would reach its peak a decade later when Nagle denied the great Arnold Palmer a third-successive Major victory after holding on to win the 1960 Open Championship at St Andrews – the 100th anniversary of golf’s most storied tournament.

Nagle, who was born in Sydney, held off the fast-finishing Palmer to claim the Claret Jug and begin his own love affair with the tournament as he finished runner-up in 1963 during a run of seven top-10 finishes at the event in a 10-year period.

Nicknamed ‘Mr Modesty’, Nagle won an astonishing 61 PGA Tour of Australasia tournaments alone – and a further 23 overseas – and was runner-up to Gary Player at the 1965 US Open after making up three shots on the final three holes only to lose an 18-hole playoff.

It was the WA Open that helped kick-start his glorious career – Nagle’s only victory before his 1950 success was at the Australian PGA Championship the previous year – and he returned to Perth to complete a hat-trick of titles at Lake Karrinyup (1951) and Royal Perth (1952).

Nagle died at the age of 94 in January 2015 as an icon of Australian, and world, golf.

Other significant winners

Terry Gale
Six WA Open wins: 1970, 1974, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1990

A true icon of WA golf, Terry Gale clocked up six WA Open wins – two as an amateur in 1972 and 1975 and four more as a pro in 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1990. It could have been an even greater haul for Gale, too. He finished as a runner-up on four occasions (twice as an amateur) – including to Greg Norman in 1986.

Stephen Leaney
Six WA Open wins: 1991, 1994, 1997, 2002, 2004, 2017

Another golfer to clinch the WA Open crown whilst still an amateur (in 1991), Leaney added five more state titles between 1994 and 2017, the last of which, at the age of 48, ended a 13-year drought between tour titles.

A four-time European Tour winner and member of the International Team in the 2003 President’s Cup, Leaney also went close to glory in the Majors, finishing as runner-up to Jim Furyk in the 2003 US Open – his best-ever finish on US soil.

Kim Felton
Three WA Open wins: 2001, 2003, 2006

WA has been a happy hunting ground for Felton, who has scored six of his 14 pro titles back here on home soil. As well as three WA Open wins, Felton achieved a ‘three-peat’ in the WA PGA Championship, going back-to-back-to-back from 2002-2004.

Brett Rumford
One WA Open win: 2005

A colossus of WA golf, Rumford may spend more of his time coaching nowadays but he’s still no slouch when competing against his fellow pros as he proved by winning the 2023 Cottesloe Open.

A six-time winner on the European Tour between 2003 and 2017, the short-game maestro may yet add to his sole WA Open title from 2005.

Ryan Fox
One WA Open win: 2014

Ryan Fox 2014

Now firmly established in the world’s top 100, the four-time DP World Tour winner was 27 years of age when he made the 2014 WA Open his first professional title. He won it in style, too, leading home the field by six strokes at Cottesloe GC with a 23-under-par total that has yet to be matched at the championship.

Image credits: Getty Images

The 2024 WA Open takes place at Mandurah Country Club from October 17-20. Admission is free for spectators and no registration is required. Simon Hawkes is the defending champion.