By Andrew Both
(Reuters) - World number two Jordan Spieth will be well rewarded for his trip Down Under this week regardless of whether he successfully defends his title at the Australian Open, a tournament he has developed a love affair with over the last four years.
The American's appearance fee for playing for the Stonehaven Cup at The Australian course in Sydney from Thursday will be in the vicinity of $1 million, according to several golf insiders contacted by Reuters.
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But it is all money well spent, according to Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt.
Pitt says the British Open champion's appearance, along with that of home favorite Jason Day, has made the tournament much easier to market and helped sell out the corporate hospitality boxes.
"From my perspective, Jordan is the biggest man in world golf," Pitt said in a telephone interview, citing Spieth’s three major titles by the age of 24.
"He's an all around package on the course and beyond that he’s likeable.
"We’ve basically sold out of corporate hospitality and Jordan’s announcement really helped that. And pre-sales of tickets are much more advanced of last year.”
Australia definitely holds some appeal for Spieth.
While the likes of Dustin Johnson, the only player currently above him the world rankings, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson and McIlroy have played for the Stonehaven Cup once or twice, the Texan will be making his fourth successive appearance this week.
Not everyone is convinced that paying players simply to turn up is a good idea.
With Day receiving a similar amount and several other players smaller fees, the appearance money budget will dwarf the tournament's total prize purse of A$1.25 million ($945,625).
Australia's Peter Thomson, a five-times British Open champion, is one of those who have criticized such payments but Pitt contends that appearance fees are the only way to get the best players to come Down Under.
Spieth received $500,000 for playing a tournament in Japan the week before his Australian Open debut in 2014, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters, and his stock has only risen since.
"We operate in a market where appearance fees are required to attract the best players in the world, particularly international players, and we are in the same boat as a large number of tournaments around the world," Pitt said.
"For the world’s top players, there are now so many playing opportunities and the schedule is crowded, so many tournaments have had to adapt to stay competitive."
Spieth was only 21 when he blew away a field that included defending champion Rory McIlroy by six strokes in 2014. He returned in 2015, where he tied for second a stroke off the pace, before adding another victory after a playoff last year.
"When he played that first Open, Rory was the front runner and Jordan probably came in a little under the radar," Pitt said. "We’ve seen him grow from young guy on tour to an established superstar."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)