A self-imposed booze ban and blissful ignorance of the birdie barrage he was unleashing has given Gold Coast-based Deyen Lawson a two-stroke advantage after the opening round of the Gippsland Super 6 at Yallourn Golf Club east of Melbourne.
An afternoon of all-out attack ended with an outright leader and a host of spurned contenders in an exhilarating first round, Lawson’s 10 birdies in an 8-under 64 putting him two strokes clear of Dimi Papadatos and Michael Wright.
The first ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia four-round tournament since the NZ Open last February, Victorian pair Marcus Fraser and Ben Eccles led the way in the morning field with rounds of 5-under 67, both of which could have been better if not for late slip-ups on the 328-metre par-4 ninth.
Both Fraser and Eccles eagled the par-5 fifth hole but Fraser’s bogey and Eccles’ unfortunate double kept them from taking sole ownership of the lead ahead of the afternoon wave.
Their 5-under total was under immediate threat from New South Welshmen Papadatos and Nathan Barbieri, the pair starting on opposite nines but both plundering the tight Yallourn layout for five birdies in their opening six holes.
Barbieri got to 8-under with three holes to play in his round but a double-bogey at seven and another dropped shot at eight sent him back to the chasing pack at 5-under.
After five birdies in his opening six holes and an eagle at the 370-metre par-4 10th Papadatos also looked like going low first up but a bogey at 17 offset by a closing birdie at 18 left him at 6-under and two behind Lawson.
After starting with a bogey at 10 Lawson soon found his rhythm, racking up 10 birdies over the remainder of his round to end day one with a handy buffer, crediting a decision to give up alcohol in September and a COVID-induced reality check for his sharper focus.
“Normally I’d enjoy myself a little bit when I’m home but I’ve stopped drinking completely since September and I feel like when I’m practising I’m a lot more focused,” revealed Lawson, who made the final four of the Blitz Golf Glenelg event on January 10.
“COVID is probably going to make people go either way. Find a job and do that or, for me, it’s made me wake up a bit.
“I was a bit miserable there for a bit but now I feel better than I ever have and I’m ready. Even my coach said last week, now it’s just a matter of getting stuff to play in.
“I’m feeling better and now it’s just a matter of trusting what I’m working on and taking each shot at a time.”
After dropping a shot on his opening hole Lawson rebounded with a birdie at 11 and turned in 33, his back nine of 5-under 31 highlighted by a birdie that may have eluded him in years gone by.
“COVID is probably going to make people go either way. Find a job and do that or, for me, it’s made me wake up a bit." - Deyen Lawson
“I didn’t hit a good drive off the par 5, the fifth, and it was going to be a really risky shot to even get it up near the green,” Lawson explained.
“I decided to chip out with a 6-iron to a good number – which ended up being 82 metres, just a little sand wedge – and I hit that to half a foot and nearly holed it.
“I made birdie that way where previously I would have tried a bit much.
“I know roughly what I am in terms of my score but I think not knowing how many birdies I’ve had might be a good thing.
“I do sometimes make eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 birdies in a round and not realise it. If you started thinking about how many birdies you’d had maybe you wouldn’t do it very often.”
Champing at the bit to play tournament golf again, Papadatos was unapologetically aggressive from the outset, yielding a blistering start that was highlighted by holing a 54° wedge from 98 metres for eagle at the par-4 10th.
“I couldn’t sleep last night I was that keen to play golf,” said Papadatos, who had to spend a night in a Melbourne hotel self-isolating after driving down from the Central Coast last Saturday.
“I was maybe a little bit aggressive. I felt like I was playing all right and it’s a course you can get after but if you’re a little bit off there’s so much run and trouble that there are heaps of bogeys as well.
“You can make quite a few soft bogeys if you’re a little bit off and that showed up a little bit late in the round.”
Brisbane’s Michael Wright has spent more time fishing with his sons Noah, 14, and Charlie, 12, than playing golf in recent months but dusted off a less than stellar practice round to plot his way to a bogey-free 6-under 66.
“It’s kind of cool to be able to do it at my age,” said Wright, who will turn 47 next month.
“Maybe it’s the relaxed attitude that helped me out there today.
“I hit it quite scratchy in the practice round but that’s golf, you don’t have to flush it in the practice rounds, just get it done when it counts.
“I plotted along there today and then made a couple of nice putts for birdie and then made a good 15-footer for par on the par-3 12th and that felt like an eagle. That kept the momentum going.
“I had a couple more late and then had two harsh lip-outs on the last two holes so it could have been even better.”