After a day of travel and two practice rounds, the Asia-Pacific Championship finally begins for the six hopeful Australians who are vying for a U.S. Masters invite.
The finale to their course preparation was playing the iconic 18th at the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club. As the final hurdle for the eventual winner, the Australian contingent took a moment to imagine the dramatic scenarios that could play out on this 471m par-5.
The distance written on the card is deceptive. Thanks to a sharp 90 degree turn to the left, the closing hole is just 380m as the crow flies from tee to pin, with dense scrub welcoming any errant shot. It’s a big risk for a big reward, and NSW golfer Travis Smyth gave this hole a glowing reference.
“This hole is just the best!” exclaimed Smyth, while walking from the 18th tee.
“On Sunday – wow. You could eagle it to win, or make a par and still lose by one.”
During Tuesday’s practice round, Cameron Davis faced his shortest ever approach on a par-5, thanks to a slight downwind breeze and some luck with the cart path.
“I was trying to hit it just to the inside of the bunker on the corner (260m away),” said Davis
“I hit it as hard as I could and pulled it left. It ended cup carrying about 330m to the path and it took off.”
To the casual bystander, there has been a negligible difference in conditions over the past few days, but Smyth gave some great insight into how the course changes with the wind.
“It’s amazing what a small wind change can to do this hole,” said Smyth, while walking to his ball near the 200m marker.
“It was barely down breeze yesterday, and it’s barely into the wind today. It really makes you think about how you approach the hole.”
WA’s Jarryd Felton echoed these sentiments.
“With the breeze behind us, I had a sand wedge in and today I hit five-iron,” said Felton, who ended up in the bunker on the corner, about 260m from the tee. Felton would still make the green, and two putt for birdie.
“You’ve nearly got to aim to the right of this bunker. [Lucas] Herbert hit his pretty well and he just flew past it."
With a tempermental course, this week's forecast makes some sorry reading.
Victorian Lucas Herbert said you would be mad to challenge the corner with a stiff headwind. Tournament meteorologist Mike McClellan agreed, but argued that an increase in wind speed will cause a dramatic increase in the drama on the other 17 holes.
McClellan is a veteran on golf’s professional tours, with ten U.S. Masters tournaments under his belt, and is employed as the on-site meteorologist on the European Tour.
The conversation started with an innocent question about the humidity.
“[In Hong Kong] you get this humidity in the summer and early autumn, where it’s stagnant and there’s not a lot of wind — but within a day, it completely changes,” said McClellan, with a sense of foreboding.
“Then there's the north-east monsoon, and we will start feeling that on Friday. From Friday, to Saturday and Sunday, these winds are going to crank up out of the east.”
At Clearwarter Bay, the front nine (or ocean nine to locals) sits at see level, while the highland nine climbs drastically through the hills, leaving most of the course — and especially the ocean nine — exposed to anything that comes from the east.
“We’re talking max easterly winds of 30km/h on Friday, 40km/h on Saturday and 50km/h on Sunday, with gusts up to 60km/h.”
“It’s going to be tough, very tough. And a few greens will be exposed, but [the tournament organisers] are going to do everything they can do to ensure the course is playable.”
With the greens reading 10 to 10.5 feet, humid conditions, and the sticky Bermuda grass gripping the ball, it will take a lot to make the ball move around on the putting surface, but McClellan isn’t ruling out any suspension of play through wind or thunderstorms.
“What happens in this area is the air hits those mountains to the west, and moves up and forms these big clouds, which you can see now. The stronger the winds are, the harder the winds hit those mountains — and even more air is forced up. This means more clouds and maybe even a thunderstorm.”
When this news was passed on to the Australians, their reaction were almost unexpected.
“I think that might be good actually,” said the ever optimistic Smyth.
“It’s already hard enough to walk around here, but I think that gives us an advantage, as our programs really push us on our fitness. Hopefully it’s going to be hot and windy. I’d like a bit of a struggle out there.”
ROUND 1 TEE TIMES:- Local (AEST)
Cameron Davis:- 7:12am (9:12am)
Ryan Ruffels: – 7:23am (9:23am)
Travis Smyth:- 7:34am (9:34am)
Jarryd Felton:- 11:31am (1:31pm)
Lucas Herbert:- 11:42am (1:42pm)
Antonio Murdaca:- 11:53am (1:53pm)