The scores were low and there is a monumental logjam at the top after day one of the Golf Challenge NSW Open at Concord Golf Club.
Nine players shot brilliant seven-under rounds of 64 which is lower than the course record of 65 held by Ewan Porter, but none of them can claim the record because lift-clean-place rules were in place due to the wet conditions.
St Michael’s amateur Harrison Crowe is among the leading cluster of players along with Queenslanders Anthony Quayle, Charlie Dann and Jake McLeod, Western Australian Jarryd Felton, Queensland-based Victorian Deyen Lawson, and New South Welshmen Dimi Papadatos, Darren Beck and Jordan Zunic. Another Queenslander, Andrew Dodt, is at six-under and just a shot from the lead.
The sun shone all day in western Sydney and the players welcomed the better conditions, albeit that the remnants of the past few days’ rain had not evaporated, reflected in the squelchy conditions underfoot.
There are some strong reputations among the leading group, with Papadatos, Quayle and Felton having won events on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia this season already. Papadatos, who won the Vic Open earlier this season, is clinging to his top-three position in the Tour Order of Merit with its DP World Tour lure, but he is enduring an extraordinary week for a pro golfer.
He is best man in his friend and fellow-pro Lincoln Tighe’s wedding tomorrow in Wollongong. He will make the trip south immediately after finishing round two tomorrow morning.
In context of the strength of the leaderboard, the 20-year-old Crowe’s seven-birdie performance is impressive.
The reigning NSW Amateur champion and twice previously Victorian Amateur champion, Crowe set the pace with an early tee-off, and relished the opportunity to play another professional tournament as he ponders his own future.
Recent appearances in pro Tour events have helped his nerves. "I felt a lot more comfortable coming into this week after the last couple of weeks in pro events,” he said. “It's a bit different to amateur golf but the nerves have tamed down a little bit."
Crowe said he wanted to stay as an amateur for a while longer, even though he appears to be ready for pro status. "I feel like it's creeping up," he said. "I just don’t want to rush it at the same time. I've got a full year of amateur golf and a lot going on."
McLeod, 27, who suffered a difficult year in Europe in 2021, started hot at four-under through four after he eagled the par-five 13th hole from 20 feet. Beyond that his putter kept him rolling, and he made a string of good par-saves. The experience overseas has left him with some perspective.
“We sometimes come off and say it was a `solid round’, but today it actually was.” - Deyen Lawson.
“It taught me that golf sucks when you play bad," he said. "Last year was terrible. It was a tough six months up there. I’ve just accepted it, took it on the chin and did the work when I came home, and I’m starting to play a bit better now.”
Quayle, who is also a contender for the top-three spot on the order of merit, eagled the eighth, his second-last hole, to get himself to the top of the leaderboard.
"I stayed patient," said Quayle. "I had it going a little bit early and was five-under after six, but then I went really quiet for a long time and I had to be patient because I felt like it could have got away from me because it could have got away from me when I wasn’t making birdies when perhaps I should have and then made a nice eagle on the eighth and it ended up being a pretty nice round."
Felton’s seven-under total showed the value of his win in Sydney a few weeks ago. “I think it was validation for good work done in the last month,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t playing too good coming up to it, I felt like I was way ahead of what I was producing. Now I feel like I’m producing the scores that I need to produce. That was probably the worst score I could have had out there. It’s nice to be stress-free.”
Beck’s day, his third wedding anniversary no less, was made the more remarkable by the fact that since the pandemic arrived in 2020, he has been working full-time on the greenkeeping staff at St Michael’s, and golf is now a part-time experience for him. Last week, he was on the shovels at St Michael’s and he is unsure whether his future is as a touring pro golfer or not.
“I still don’t know,” he said. “It just goes around in circles. If money wasn’t an option, I’d be playing for sure. But I see a different perspective now, working hard and playing golf part-time,” Beck said. “I’d like to get back to full-time but I’m not too sure. We’ll take one week at a time. I worked last week, got paid. This week, it is what it is.”
Lawson had a four-metre birdie putt at his 18th hole, the ninth on the course, to take the outright lead but missed on the low side. Renowned for his flair, Lawson played what coach Darrell Brown described as a “commercially sound” round with no bogeys in a group alongside fellow Brown pupil Richard Green.
“I actually played more like `Greeny’ today and just made smart decisions for once,” Lawson joked. “We sometimes come off and say it was a `solid round’, but today it actually was.”
Like Lawson, Zunic had a couple of chances to grab top spot on his own, but his putts at the last two holes stopped short. Zunic adopted his coach Ian Triggs’ mantra of staying in the moment. “My coach told me that, a bit of a mantra, ‘trust, not try’. The more birdies I had, I was conscious of trying to let go even more and it seemed to work.”
Dann walked down the 18th hole late in the day with the outright lead at eight-under but he bogeyed the last – his first blemish – after pulling his tee shot into the trees and had to be content with 64. “I was bound to have a bogey out there if you look at the last few weeks the way my results have been,” he said.
Round two begins at 7.30am tomorrow at Concord.
* Martin Blake