Australian Amateur Golf Championships - Royal Sydney G.C. 1994
|Englishman Warren Bennett might have claimed the most
prestigious of all Australian Amateur Championships in winning the Centenary
title at Royal Sydney but a new star is on the near horizon in the form of
20 year old Victorian, Jamie McCallum.
McCallum a semi-finalist last year, moved a step closer to the ultimate prize when he went down, 2-1, to Bennett in the 36 hole final which will long be remembered for its excellence of shot making and long putts holed amid the tension of the cut and thrust of match play.
It was indeed a fitting finale to a two week celebration of Australian amateur golf in which many former champions gathered to share a few memories with some dusting off the clubs for on final hoorah in the 36 holes of stroke play qualifying which none of them expected to achieve.
The oldest of the amateur champions still with us, the 1934 winner Tom McKay, spoke eloquently at a black tie Centenary Dinner at Royal Sydney of his clashes with the great American Gene Sarazen in the '30s while 1961 champion Tom Crow reminded his fellow guests off honour just how special it is to win the Amateur Championship of Australia.
"Winning this championship has an enormous basis for challenges later in your life. It gives you a self-esteem, an in-built confidence, to achieve," said the man who went to the United States to form the Cobra company.
"And, you think about the truly great players in Australia who have never won the championship. You realize how lucky you were. You look at fellows like Billy Edgar who was three times runner-up and Bill Higgins who was runner-up two years in a row, he finally won on the 40th. (against SA's Chris bonython in 1977). Yes, I was indeed privileged to win," Crow said.
He could have gone further. Five times British Open champion Peter Thomson never did win the amateur championship; nor did Greg Norman. Yet both came from a background of amateur golf.
Add Victorian Robert Allenby to the list. His first year in professional golf, in 1992, was little short of phenomenal but match play, which many would say is the purest form of golf, defeated him.
McCallum is a lot like Allenby - in stature and shot-making ability that is. Both are built on the lines of a No. 1 iron and, like Allenby before him, McCallum has no fear of long putts or short. He very nearly pulled off a remarkable victory against Bennett who came to Australia as the 1992 British Youth champion.
Royal Sydney was conditioned as never before for a championship, either the Open or the Amateur, and both players did the course proud. The best ball between them for the last 17 holes of the 36-hole final was nine under with Bennett finishing the afternoon session five under and McCallum four under.
It was Australia versus England. For those with a little background knowledge of the McCallum family, it was Scotland versus England. For those in the gallery who were basically of the NSW variety, it was a case of who do we barrack for: The Pom or the Mexican. There's always been a healthy rivalry between NSW and those from south of the border.
Scotland? Well, Hugh McCallum was in the gallery on the final day. He'd packed light to catch a flight from Tullamarine on Sunday morning to see his son in action and his Scottish heart was filled with pride while his disposable Kodak camera worked overtime.
The script was there for a "son" of Scotland to win the Centenary Amateur Championship, but it was not to be.
Tom McKay did not play the championship, but many of the oldies who have retained their amateur status did. They appeared in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of hair loss, and among them were the likes of Bob Stevens (1952), Peter Toogood (1954), Barry Warren (1957), Peter Bennett (1970), Randall Hicks (1971), Colin Kaye (1972) and Peter Sweeney (1976). To all of them, golf is now just a social pursuit. But then again it always was.
They played the 36 holes of the stroke play in trying to qualify for the 32 spots for match play, but not one had illusions of grandeur. They were not there as aging prize-fighters making a comeback but simply to share a celebration of Australian amateur golf.
Let's not embarrass them by mentioning scores. Suffice to say, none came through qualifying.
The highly talented Jason Dawes did. At the top of the class. The young Victorian, who has already drawn praise from Peter Thomson, fired a five under par 67 in the opening round around The Australian layout that the great jack Nicklaus did not make any easier with his redesign in the mid - 70s.
Draw a line with Dawes' 67 with the scores shot in the Australian Open at Kensington in 1990 when the best was 65 by Queenslander Don Fardon and the next best a 67 by New Zealander Greg Turner and American Michael Bradley.
A three over par 75 at Royal Sydney on the second day of qualifying which was a day most foul in any golfers language saw Dawes head the qualifiers by two shots from NSW youngster Kurt Linde (71-73) and New Zealander Mark Brown (70-74) and thus become the 1994 Australian medallist.
And what of the finalists? Bennett, with rounds of 74-74, qualified in tied 10th. spot while McCallum was tied 23rd. with rounds of 73-78. There with McCallum was West Australian Greg Chalmers who was attempting to become the first player since the great Jim Ferrier (1938-39) to win successive Australian Amateur Championship.
There was irony in the quarter-final clash between Dawes and Chalmers. As members of the Australian team which played in the preceding International Teams series event, won by Bennet and Colin Edwards of England, they roomed together for the fortnight. The closeness was reflected in Chalmers winning at the 19th.
Bennett beat the multi-capped Australian International Lester Peterson, in the quarters, 4-3, and then closed out Chalmers, and his dream, by an identical margin in the semi-finals.
But, on the other half of the draw, McCallum, was quietly progressing, reaching the final with a two up win over Tasmania's Brett Partridge in the semis and, thus, giving Australia a local content in the Centenary Championship.
McCallum spoke with both Steven Bann and sports psychologist Noel Blundell on the eve of the final. He certainly was not over-awed by what lay ahead, but things were looking pretty desperate after 16 holes of the final. he was three down to Bennett and lunch was starting to taste like tired sandwiches which they would never serve at Royal Sydney.
But match play is about strong minds and cool nerves. McCallum had both.
Royal Sydney's 17th. is a par 3 though it is a fair bet that many of its members play it as a par 4 as it measures 192-metres with a bunker stretched across the front of the green waiting to snare the miss-hit shots or those not so long off the tee.
It was playing into the wind and Bennett found the bunker while McCallum was safely on the left portion of the green, but a long way from th pin which was tucked in the right corner. Bennett had been superb with his long bunker shots throughout but he failed to conjure an up and down. McCallum's first putt was three meters short but he rammed the second in the hole for his 3. One hole retrieved.
Then at the 18th, McCallum hit a 9 iron to within 25 cms of the pin to set up a birdie to reduce the deficit by a further hole. Under normal circumstances, Bennett would not have asked his opponent to hole the putt, but that day at Royal Sydney the circumstances were not normal.
So it was that they went to lunch with Bennett holding a one-up advantage, but the Englishman declined his nourishment. Instead, he preferred a session on the practice putting green in an attempt to find a stroke which would eliminate the short ones missed.
The Englishman is approaching a career golfer. At home, he works six months for a car rental company each year and plays full-time for the remainder. His selection for the Australian Tour was confirmed in December during his working period and, each day after work, he practised for an hour or so in zero temperatures with snow on the ground to prepare himself. There was, as they say, a suggestion he might not be tournament fit.
Through all the match play rounds at Royal Sydney, he was not headed until the final. He had not felt pressure, but McCallum was giving it to him in large doses even though the Victorian did not get his nose in front through the first 18 holes.
After just three holes in the afternoon, the match was square, McCallum hit a 4 iron to a metre on the par 3 166 metres third and holed the putt to use a few more frames of Hugh McCallum's disposable camera.
Bennett may have been rattled, but he did not show it. Nor were there any signs of anxiety when McCallum holed a three-metre putt at the sixth to move to one up for the first time in the match.
The Englishman brought the match back to square with a birdie 4 at the seventh and that was the start of a shoot-out which enthralled the large gallery. There was no doubting the Englishman's temperament when he drew back from a two-metre putt at the 11th. after the Kookaburras in a nearby tree laughed.
Bennett had snared a birdie from 12 metres at the ninth to go one up and he, too, could afford to laugh as he stood up from the putt.
At the 12th. Bennett holed from 13 metres for birdie to go two up, and again it looked all over. But birdie putts from six and 13 metres squared the match once more and Tony Gresham remarked from the gallery: "How good is this?"
It was fantastic. Bennett holed from five metres at the 15th. to restore his one-up lead, after the 16th. was halved in par 4s, he delivered the knock-out blow when he hit a 2 iron to two metres at the 17th. which, earlier in the day, had brought him undone.
"Awesome," said the Englishman of his play. And we could only agree.
"Third last year, second this year... " said McCallum. He did not have to complete the sentence to indicate his thoughts. As Bann told him on the telephone just a few hours after the final: You've come a long way in just 12 months."
So very true. We witnessed a memorable championship and
the betting is we will