The format for the 2021 Australian Amateur Championship might have been new – 112 years of match play making way for a conventional 72-hole stroke play event – but the final-day dramatics were as familiar as ever. Not so much in the women’s tournament where Grace Kim overwhelmed the field by seven shots at Kooyonga Golf Club in Adelaide, but on the men’s side where there were final-day thrills and spills from go to whoa.
South Australia’s Jack Thompson, a member of nearby Grange Golf Club, took a five-shot lead into the last round. With hundreds of supporters, Thompson seemed set for the biggest win of his amateur career. Perhaps weighed down by the burden of expectation, he began the round with three jittery bogeys which immediately brought his closest challenger, Queenslander Louis Dobbelaar, into the contest.
The pair engaged in a tense battle on the next dozen holes, trading birdies and making clutch putts. When they arrived on the 17th tee, Dobbelaar had his nose in front by the narrowest of margins.
Perhaps engrossed in their own private contest, they didn’t see 16-year-old Sydney prodigy Jeffrey Guan in the rear-view mirror. Guan chipped in on the 15th and then birdied the 16th to join Dobbelaar in the lead.
The championship was decided at the par-4 17th, Kooyonga’s signature hole that measures a modest 353 metres but is played to a green protected by water at the front right and a deep, dangerous bunker at the rear.
First, Guan came to grief when his approach trickled into the treacherous back bunker resulting in a bogey. Then, after Dobbelaar had hit his second shot within birdie range, Thompson decided to roll the dice on a death-or-glory approach that came spectacularly unstuck. Twice he drowned his approach into the pond. His quadruple-bogey 8 was the final straw in his closing 82, 17 shots off his course-record 65 on Wednesday.
Dobbelaar went on to make his birdie putt, effectively sealing victory. In prevailing by two strokes ahead of Guan, the 19-year-old added the Australian Amateur to the New Zealand Amateur crown he won in 2016 (as a 15-year-old) and two Queensland Amateur titles. Thompson’s day went from bad to worse when he made an inadvertent scorecard error and was disqualified.
“There’s been some very positive feedback. It’s my preference to keep this format, even though I accept many spectators might prefer to watch match play.”
The new champion shot 70 on Friday and was the only player to shoot four sub-par rounds for the week, again proving to Golf Australia’s high-performance director Brad James that he possesses those indefinable qualities that define a winner.
“Jack had the local support behind him and he knows these courses in Adelaide really well, so we all thought that would work in his favour,” James told GGP.
“But it didn’t work out that way. Louis just has a history of winning and that’s something you can’t teach. To be able to execute your shots under that kind of pressure in the final round … that kind of mentality comes from within; it can’t be taught.”
In the women’s tournament Kim, from Avondale in Sydney, pieced together rounds of 68-75-74-68 for a 3-under total of 285. It gave her a seven-shot triumph ahead of Kirsten Rudgeley, with Hyejun Park a further two strokes back.
Kim started the final day two strokes adrift of Rudgeley, but a nerveless display of putting brought her six birdies in eight holes from the ninth when the tournament hung in the balance.
Her final-round 68 was tarnished only by a messy finish, when she took four shots from the back of the 18th green, making her seven-stroke margin even more remarkable. Still, her final-round 68 was six strokes better than the second lowest score and nearly 11 better than the field average of 79.86 of the 22 players who made the cut.
“That last hole probably wrecked my stats, but I am still very happy,” Kim said.
Like Dobbelaar, Kim is a proven winner. She recently won the New South Wales Amateur title and is the reigning Youth Olympic champion.
Last year, she experienced the excitement of an invitation to the second edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur only to have the event cancelled because of COVID-19. With the golf world slowly returning to a new “normal”, the 20-year-old was ecstatic when the green-hued invitation turned up on her doorstep again.
Kim is now looking to take the plunge into professional golf sometime after the Augusta event, a challenge James believes she’s ready for.
“Obviously I am quite keen to turn professional and start earning cash, travel the world, play different tournaments,” Kim said. “I do have plans to play LPGA Q-School this year.”
As with the US and British Amateur Championships, the Australian tournament has been contested (since 1908) as a match-play event for the top 64 (or 32) stroke-play qualifiers. Golf Australia recently chose to run the men’s and women’s events this year as four rounds of stroke play. James said the change was made to help the country’s best young players prepare for the professional ranks.
James told GGP the stroke-play tournaments had been a success and supported by the vast majority of players.
“There’s been some very positive feedback,” he said. “It’s my preference to keep this format, even though I accept many spectators might prefer to watch match play.”
RESULTS: Men | Women