“I’m a bit of a bulldog about those bogeys.”
Welcome to the world of Matt Millar.
After his umpteenth victory at the second tier of Australian golf was put in the record books at Murray Downs today – only days after his umpteenth minus one at the Cohuna pro-am – the amicable Canberran was naturally all smiles.
But when asked after his Murray Open victory whether he had felt the chasing field closing on his comfortable lead during the back nine, Millar just had that smallest hint of steel pop into his voice.
“I don’t like bogeys. I can even live with missing short birdie putts, especially when the tournament’s probably under control, but I hate bogeys,” he confessed.
“I was going along OK there through nine, but for some reason I took on that pin at 11 instead of just playing to the downhill part of that green and I paid the price.”
RIGHT: Matt Millar strikes a hybrid from the red Murray River sand at Murray Downs. PHOTOS: David Tease/Golf NSW.
As it turned out, the price was bargain basement. Millar’s three-putt was the only blemish on his card over two days of what for many was rust-laden golf emerging from Covid lockdowns and border restrictions.
The 64-70 combination that led to Millar’s three-shot triumph was equal parts style and grind.
His opening-day eight-under salvo wiped Deyen Lawson’s 65 as the Murray Downs benchmark and clearly pleased Millar greatly. “We’re not all Billy Dunk and Ted Ball breaking a thousand course records around the place, so it’s very nice to have another one,” he said with a broad smile.
But it was the blue-collar 70 under pressure and in high winds that showed the mark of the golfer that Millar has become.
The former PGA Tour of Australasia player of the year is probably the shortest hitter on Tour; but in regard to golf nous, he is the Bryson DeChambeau of his era.
In terms of his playing partners today – Ryan Lynch and James Marchesani – Millar had the mental edge over both from the very first hole after he dodged a bullet with not only a sublime long-range up-down for his own par, but the two missed birdie putts from those who could potentially have turned the screws.
He made a couple of knee-knocking par savers early; hit his own rifled fairway wood to the par-five seventh green in two; and he nipped a wedge past the flag with the perfect allowance for backspin on the ninth.
"If you have a youngster who’s interested in golf and want them to learn the nuances of the sport, you should make a beeline for Matt Millar." - Mark Hayes.
When he tapped that putt in, the fat lady went to change into her on-stage attire as his buffer grew to four and his nearest rivals either stalling or running out of holes, in the case of the uber-impressive Elvis Smylie.
Then came the momentary lapse on 11 followed by a long second shot to the par-five 12th that was by no means poor, but just rolled into greenside sand and kept his billy boiling for a couple of extra minutes, despite the resultant par.
“I just was a bit, not angry, just agitated for a couple of holes after that tee shot on 11th which I should never have attempted. It was stupid.
“But I switched back on and knocked it in close there on 13 and it was OK again from that point.”
That makes light of a couple of late challenges as Charlie Dann finally emerged from the pack to nab second place.
Millar made an epic up-and-down from rough behind the 15th green to save par, then another brilliant pitch and putt on the long 16th after finding sand and rough with his first and second shots, respectively.
With no disrespect to Murray Downs, they were escapes worthy of a far greater stage.
He then played a great recovery shot from an errant drive up the last to save another par and prove to his younger peers that length isn’t everything.
Millar shared one of the mental gems he’s bestowed on his clubmates and clients at Federal Golf Club in Canberra when he was giving lessons during the lockdowns.
“Everyone hits a bad shot here and there, but you can’t let it change the way you think about things. If you get down on yourself, it’ll snowball.
“So when I hit a bad one, I tell myself to start up immediately with a string of good shots and see how many I can hit in a row.”
Golf is never that simple in reality.
But again, it’s a great snapshot of Millar’s mind.
It would be very easy to watch him warm up on a range and decide, as a paying gallery member, that you’d prefer to see players other than Millar because he’s undeniably unspectacular in comparison to what the bloke right next door is doing. Guaranteed.
But if you have a youngster who’s interested in golf and want them to learn the nuances of the sport, you should make a beeline for Matt Millar.
Because with the same ironclad guarantee, they’ll quickly build an appreciation of golf’s myriad methods that can lead to success.
There might not be a heap of bark in Millar’s ball-striking, but that bulldog’s scorecard sure packs a mighty bite.