CHONBURI, THAILAND | For an elite amateur such as Harrison Crowe, the decision to turn pro is a serious one.
A lot of thought and meticulous planning goes into it. Months of preparation is required to build an initial schedule. Carefully crafted letters requesting exemptions are written to tournament directors. A team needs to be built that would ease the player’s transition into the paid ranks. Sponsorships must be secured.
The wheels were set in motion when Crowe arrived for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Amata Spring Country Club here last Monday. Having turned 21 on October 15, the Australian had decided that it would be his last week as an amateur.
Crowe then single-handedly proceeded to destroy that most well-laid plan.
With clutch golf throughout the week, but most notably down the back nine on Sunday, he won the 13th AAC and forced his own hand. He is now postponing his decision by at least nine months. After all, winning the region’s premier amateur title comes with added incentives: invitations to the 2023 Masters in April and the 151st Open Championship in July next year. Of course, the caveat is that he needs to retain his amateur status.
“Are you kidding me? I will happily stay an amateur,” Crowe said Saturday after he had built a two-stroke lead going into the final round.
A two-shot lead in golf might sound comforting, but it is as transient as a soap bubble floating in the air. In Crowe’s case, it lasted about 14 minutes and only 390 yards of the first hole of Sunday’s final round. A bogey there, coupled with a birdie by China’s Bo Jin, and the lead had disappeared.
Little seemed to be going Crowe’s way as he made the turn with three dropped shots to fall three behind Jin, an Oklahoma State University star. The front nine had been the favorite side of the golf course for Crowe, who had played the outward side in 8-under through the first three stress-free rounds. The back nine had caused a few more problems.
As Crowe headed down the tunnel that takes the players from ninth green to the 10th tee of Amata Spring, he deliberately slowed his walk to facilitate a conversation with himself, and a quick chat with his dad, Tony, and Dean Kinney, who coaches Golf Australia’s High Performance squad.
There literally was light at the end of the tunnel. All Crowe needed was to believe in himself. That back nine was not just going to be a quest for victory; it would be a test of his character.
Australia had one of the most stringent lockdowns during the pandemic, and like other things in life, it also affected golf. But Crowe somehow turned it into a silver lining and is now in a hurry to make up for the lost time.
“I certainly had to dig deep,” Crowe said. “At the turn, I kind of told my dad and his mate that I just needed one to go in, just one to drop, and from there, I backed myself to keep it going. I had not had a birdie all day, and the one on 11th got my momentum going forward.”
That birdie at the par-5 11th opened the floodgate, as Crowe made four in five holes and caught Jin on the 15th.
Of course, there was going to be further drama. Crowe dropped a shot on the 16th, which handed the lead back to Jin, who himself was searching for an emotional victory that would have earned a second AAC title for the Jin family (brother Cheng won in 2015).
It was followed by a decisive two-shot swing on the iconic par-3 17th hole, where Jin found water and Crowe made a solid par from the center of the green.
Walking with Crowe, Kinney felt the universe coming together and conspiring for a Crowe win.
“That was the most wind we have ever seen on the 17th,” Kinney said. “I was behind the tee, and I said to one of my colleagues, ‘He plays this sort of golf all the time.’ He plays in heavy wind at St. Michael’s Golf Club in Sydney regularly. That wouldn’t faze him. And the wind really picked up just before Bo hit his shot. It was almost like the universe gave it to him.”
Crowe signed for an even-par 72 and a 13-under 275 for a one-stroke victory over Jin, who shot 71.
“Obviously, during the lockdown period, it was quite tough for us,” he said. “Couldn’t really travel anywhere. However, I was able to play a lot of golf because I pretty much live on the golf course, and that was probably the best thing for me. It was a local course that I play at, Bardwell Valley. There are not many practice facilities, so I just kept playing holes and holes and holes, which really improved my game.”
Crowe won the Australian Master of Amateurs earlier this year and followed it up with the New South Wales Amateur title and the New South Wales Open, a professional event on the PGA of Australia Tour.
Crowe has been traveling with Golf Australia’s High Performance squad and spent the summer in the U.K., followed by a month in the U.S. However, he could not replicate his early-season form, and that had been gnawing at him.
Kinney, who has known Crowe since he was a 13-year-old and accompanied him on the overseas trip, sees things differently.
“I’d say those few months have been a great learning experience that has probably helped him win here and will help him become a better player in the future,” Kinney said.
“I think a lot of people underestimate how affected Australia was in COVID. Someone like Harrison would have had a number of years of international travel before he even considered turning pro. We want them to get out of Australia and experience the world standard.
“When he finally traveled this year, he struggled a little bit, because everything was different … the golf courses, the setup. The Scottish Amateur was in 60-mph winds. I mean, he took a 3-iron to the U.K., and everybody else is using 1-iron and so on. And then the U.S. was a big change from the U.K.
“I know he’s gotten a lot out of that experience. He’s gone back to his coaches in Sydney, and worked on those elements, looked at the setup of his clubs, and it’s all made him a better player.”
It also has helped Crowe become the third Australian to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur title, joining Antonio Murdaca (2014) and Curtis Luck (2016).
Crowe admittedly did not have a backup plan that factored the success. He now will have to scramble to come up with alternate events until the Open Championship in the third week of July. Until he does that, he could plan a practice round around the hallowed turf of Augusta National Golf Club with his childhood idol, Adam Scott, the only Australian to have won the Masters.