You can always sense the stench of death when the final group in a golf tournament has it all going the wrong way.
Daniel Gale headed off at Royal Melbourne’s East Course with a four-shot lead and by the time he’d chipped his second shot into the bunker at the tiny par three, 13th it was all but gone. Worse was to come when he caught the bunker shot a touch thin. Except one second changed the direction of Gale’s Sandbelt Invitational.
His ball crashed into the pin and stopped inches away and five or six was turned into a fortunate four. Still, it was another bogey and Jimmy Emmanuel, and I headed off to catch Matt Griffin, the likely winner playing a beautiful round a couple of holes ahead.
Then almost simultaneously, Griffin hit a beautiful middle iron to a flag tucked in the far-left corner of the famous green and my phone vibrated with a message.
‘Gale 1 on 16!!’
Tony Rule, the Royal Melbourne Captain, watching with the club’s greenkeeper Richard Forsyth, witnessed one of the wildest finishes ever to an Australian tournament.
Gale made a birdie on the short, par 4, 15 and then with one swing he changed the tournament.
Without a final green scoreboard, Griffin was well-entitled to assume two putts was likely good enough but instead Gale made a couple of pars to finish in 73.
He plays with great humour and a swing not out of the textbook but all week he played powerful golf on four of the best courses in the country.
Being involved in what is an experimental and unique tournament reliant on the largesse of the four clubs (Victoria, Peninsula Kingswood, Yarra Yarra and Royal Melbourne) is at the same time interesting, gratifying and joyous as ‘kids’ including 11-year-old, Fuyu Yang get to experience the atmosphere of something bigger than the amateurs are used to.
Yang shot 78,85,78,82 which I thought was miraculous golf on courses no easier (harder than most probably) than an average LPGA layout.
Of course, for experienced men including host, Geoff Ogilvy, ex-Ryder Cup man Nico Colsaerts and Cam Davis, perhaps our best player on the PGA Tour, it’s fun but hardly the second week in April at Augusta National.
Except, almost ninety years ago there was a crazy holed shot almost no one saw by Gene Sarazen which won him The Masters and became the first of a series of historic shots making The Masters the Masters.
The middle of December is late in a long year for pros, especially those playing far from home on less than glamorous tours. Robyn Choi toiled all year on the Epson Tour, essentially a year-long LPGA qualifying school where only the best few hope to make something more than their expenses. Coming from the Gold Coast makes it doubly difficult.
Choi made 21 of 21 cuts but missed the top 10 by two, something sentencing her to six rounds at the tour school.
It’s one of the longest and most miserable job interviews imaginable but 69-68-64-64-68-68 earns you any job you want.
It’s have been more than excusable to send me, as the assembler of the field, an email citing exhaustion but instead she jumped on a plane, got to Melbourne, registered on Sunday afternoon, and played well enough to win the women’s professional section and finish 12th overall.
The easiest thing about putting a field together is finding amateurs to play. Not so easy is telling others the field is full and hopefully they can play next year.
Cam Davis is our biggest name, and he arranges his time and preparation just as he would any other tournament but as gratifying as it is to us all to have him play the full marks go to Choi. She drives as accurately as you’d expect of someone playing all year and not missing a cut and we all look forward watching her progress on the LPGA Tour next year.
Impressive to was Jazy Roberts from Bendigo who 7th overall, seven under the par and the leading woman amateur. 14th a couple of weeks earlier in Sydney at the Australian Open was impressive and she plays so fast most LPGA players would be back on the 14th hole when she was signing her card. Keep an eye on her.
Still, it was Gale’s week, and we all look forward to next year and seeing how they have all progressed. Fuyu Yang will, by then, almost be a teenager.