What a difference a year makes for Cameron Davis – the new men’s Australian Amateur champion.
Davis, 19, won an epic matchplay final on the 37th hole against New Zealand Tyler Hodge at The Australian today with a birdie on the first extra hole to seal the biggest crown of his burgeoning career.
It was the second win of the day for both the Golf Australia national squad and Golf New South Wales after fellow Sydneysider Shelly Shin earlier won the women’s title.
Davis admitted afterwards that he was exhausted from a long and sapping week, but said it was all worthwhile.
“I wanted to play less (matchplay holes) than what I’ve done, but it doesn’t matter what hole you finish on if you win. It feels good,” he beamed after match that featured 11 birdies and some incredible escape shots, particularly by Hodge.
“A good mindset for matchplay is to expect anything, so I was expecting him to hole long putts and things, so when he did do a crazy shot, I didn’t let it affect me,” Davis said.
“I knew if I stuck to my game plan, kept hitting the shots I was hitting I’d make birdies and keep myself in there.”
In an extra hole that almost summed up the gripping match, both players found the fairway bunker with tee shots on the par-5 first, but the match looked headed for a result when Hodge miscued a hybrid into the trees on the left.
A couple of feisty cockatoos did their best to distract the Kiwi as he played his recovery shot through the trees to again find trouble.
When Davis all but holed his approach shot, a miraculous hole-out was required to extend the match.
As he had done so superbly all day, the left-handed Hodge made a remarkable attempt only to see the ball run past and leave Davis victorious.
It’s a far cry from the gentle giant who was knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the national championship last year who left confident he had the game to compete in the United States in the northern summer.
But after Davis endured a string of underwhelming American results, Golf Australia high performance director Brad James said it was a testmaent to the drive and determination of the Monash Country Club member that he returned a different man.
“Last year was a great learning experience for Cam – his trip to the US helped him rededicate himself and approach his game with a different dedication level,” James said.
“He has come back with a whole different perspective on what work is. He hits the gym and has worked with 100 per cent effort on the process of making himself a better player for the long term.
“You can see that by the fact he was runner-up in the strokeplay section this week, then going on to be so consistent in the matchplay, too.
“It showed the class of player who can compete in both formats because there’s nowhere for him to hide out there.
“It’s a great tribute to him, but for both him and Shelly, it’s a huge achievement by Golf New South Wales to have both winners.
“Golf NSW national coach Dean Kinney has been absolutely brilliant with these guys and it’s a great tribute to them.”
The vastly improved Davis recently won the Victorian Amateur Championship and set a course record-equalling 63 on Royal Melbourne’s West Course during the Australian Master of the Amateurs earlier this month.
Earlier, Hodge made a flying start in the oppressively hot conditions.
Hoping to become the second consecutive New Zealander to win the title after Tae Koh last year, Hodge started with two birdies to go 2-up.
Holes were then halved until the ninth, when Hodge displayed the sublime short game that would be a feature of his day.
Davis would have been pleased with his bogey after finding both the fairway bunker and the water hazard, but Hodge played a wonderful chip shot from the back bunker to make par and snare the momentum, 3-up at the turn.
The Kiwi then played arguably the shot of the tournament on the uphill par-4 13th hole after his drive clipped the trees on the right and left an awkward long approach.
With Davis safely in the fairway, Hodge went for broke and took a line few spectators even considered an option.
Facing a downhill lie, he struck a hybrid through and over then over trees to carry the greenside bunker and find the green. The two-putt par matched Davis’ more conventional one, and must have left the Australian wondering when he would win a hole.
Davis was left shaking his head again on the following hole when his ball moved as he removed a stick in the rough. Forced to replace it with a one-stroke penalty, he wasn’t able to match Hodge’s par and went 4-down.
But Davis eventually won his first hole after playing the better of the two pitch shots from the back of the par-3 15th green.
His surge back into the match was complete when Davis played a spectacular wedge into the breeze on the 18th hole to within centimetres from 110m for a conceded birdie that meant Davis had won the four holes on the trot to square the match.
Both players led at times throughout the second 18, but never by more than one hole and it was fitting that extra time was needed to separate the pair.
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