I was fortunate enough to play in the event as a 28-year-old back in 2005 when it was held at Ipswich Golf Club. I navigated my way through a pre-qualifying round at Redland Bay and thanks to 3 back nine birdies, I shot a round of 70 (2 under par) to make it through by 2 shots.
I shot 79-75-154 for the tournament itself (without a single birdie) and while it would have been nice to play better, it was still great to say that I’d played in a professional golf event. The low amateur that year was Jason Day and I was one of just 24 amateurs in the field.
I’ll be honest and say that as a 41-year-old who doesn’t practice and plays only on weekends, I didn’t expect to ever play another professional tournament. That said, I decided to enter this year’s Isuzu Queensland Open at last minute (3:30pm on 11 October 2018) after a friend said he was doing the same in a Facebook chat.
I haven’t been playing particularly well but was excited to be paired with 16-year-old West Australian Josh Greer for the pre-qualifying round at Nudgee Golf Club on Monday, 29 October 2018. I saw him defeat Min Woo Lee at the 2018 Australian Men’s Amateur back in January and make his debut for Western Australia at the Australian Men’s Interstate Series in May. He was a great kid and I’d love to see him get better and better over the coming years.
For me, the day started as expected with a bogey on the 10th hole. I missed the green, hit a bad chip and hit an even worse putt. I don’t know how… but suddenly everything turned around. I holed a 30-foot birdie putt across the green on the 12th and then holed two lengthy par putts on the 18th and 2nd holes. Neither par putt deserved to go in (I pulled them both) but the breaks were going my way.
After holing a 20-foot birdie putt from off the green on the 7th, I was able to make a nervy 5-foot par putt on the 8th and an even nervier 2-foot putt for par on the 9th (my hands were shaking) to finish with an even par score of 71. There were 91 people in the field (a mix of professionals and amateurs) with the top 15 players advancing into the tournament. Would my score be good enough?
The answer was “yes” but with an asterisk. 13 players had shot 70 or better and 5 players were sitting on 71. That meant I was in a 5-man play-off with only the top 2 going through.
On the first play-off hole (the 10th), I drove in the trees and had almost no shot to the green. If it was a normal round, I would have chipped it sideways back into the fairway and played for a safe bogey. Given the stakes and the fact that bogey would have most likely meant elimination, I went for the high risk shot through a tiny gap in the trees and managed to get the ball in the front bunker.
It was a great/lucky result but I still faced a lengthy 30m bunker shot out of thick, wet sand. I splashed it out to 20-feet with a 46-degree wedge. I have no idea where I found the confidence from (I’d been a nervous wreck 30 minutes earlier) but I somehow made the putt to stay alive. It would have to be one of the most clutch shots that I’ve ever hit under intense pressure.
On the next play-off hole (the 18th), I was able to split the fairway with my drive (gasp), hit the green and two-putt for par. When the two remaining players both made bogey, I had secured a spot in the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open!
Someone on Twitter asked what the best part of the whole experience had been and it was an easy question to answer. I was touched by the number of friends and fellow golfers who sent me messages of congratulations on social media and/or came up to me in person to shake my hand out at Brisbane Golf Club. It was a thrill to know that so many people were happy for me.
The rest of the week seemed to fly by in a flash. I played the Tuesday pro-am with New South Wales professional Troy Moses and 4-time AFL premiership player Luke Hodge. I teed it up again in the Wednesday pro-am with comedian Fred Lang and Titleist representative Matt Dowling. Another nice touch of being a player was getting 24 golf balls and a new cap from Titleist!
The tournament began on Thursday and I had a 12:15pm tee time with two professionals – Braden Becker from Western Australian and Sam Lee from Fiji. Becky Kay was paired two groups ahead and she had some big crowds out following given she was the first woman to ever qualify for the Isuzu Queensland Open.
I’d like to say it was a Cinderella-like story where my great form continued during the tournament… but that wasn’t the case. I’ll admit to being very nervous! I parred the opening 2 holes but then had a run of bogies to finish with a score of 81 (10 over par). At least I had a birdie though! That was something I was unable to achieve when playing at Ipswich 13 years earlier.
Things went a little better for my Friday morning round but a few late bogies left me with a score of 78 (7 over par) and I missed the cut by a sizeable 14 shots. Of the 132 players in the field (94 professionals and 38 amateurs), I finished 127th.
It’s not a great result but it’s hard to be disappointed. I got to compete against some of the best professionals and amateurs from the country in a PGA Tour of Australasia event. I remember standing on the 18th green on Friday and trying to soak it all in for a final few seconds before the round came to an end. It was also fun to have two great friends caddy for the week – Zac Sheehan on Thursday and Brady Duncan on Friday.
Congratulations to New South Welshman Jordan Zunic who won the event with a clutch par putt from about 10 feet on the final hole. He’s a top guy and I had the pleasure of playing a practice round with Jordan before the 2009 Australian Men’s Amateur Championship at Virginia. Blake Windred took the honours for low amateur and given my role on the Board of Golf Queensland, I thought it was cool that the worst amateur got to present the prize to the best amateur!
It’s now back to normality. I’ve got a full week of work and plenty of films to catch up on. I’ve got a hunch this will be my last crack at a professional golf event but as I’ve learned over the past 7 days, anything is possible!
You can check out some highlights from the week (featuring my commentary) on the Golf Queensland YouTube page using the links below. If you look carefully, you’ll spot my shabby looking swing in the videos for round 1 and 2. Enjoy!
|With West Australian Josh Greer, my playing partner during the pre-qualifying round at Nudgee.
|How good is free stuff? An unexpected perk of qualifying for the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open.
|Not a bad pro-am group! 2014 Keperra Bowl champion Troy Moses, 4-time AFL winning premiership player Luke Hodge, super caddy Brady Duncan, and local hack Matt Toomey.
|In action during the Tuesday pro-am. That's my normal look of concern after most tee shots.
|On the 5th hole during Thursday's opening round of the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open. Flubbed this chip about 40 feet short. :)
|A rare good drive off the 6th tee during the opening round of the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open.
|Super caddy Brady Duncan ready to roll on the 1st tee of the second round.
|Presenting the low amateur prize (in my official Golf Queensland capacity) to New South Welshman Blake Windred.
|Getting a snap with the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open champion, Jordan Zunic!
|A new shelf in my trophy cabinet with a few memories from an unforgettable week at the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open.