Date: September 29, 2015
Author: Tom Fee in Hong Kong

Leaving nothing to chance in Hong Kong

With the biggest prize in amateur golf on the line at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, there is a clear strategy of leaving nothing to chance for the Australian contingent.

Backed by National Coach Marty Joyce, the six Australians in the field will be hoping to benefit from a massive behind-the-scenes effort from their support team.

Golf always challenges the mind, and the Clearwater Country Club is expected to do that and more, with an intense physical test awaiting the field on an almost mountainous course layout, in hot and humid conditions.

Nick Randall, a golf fitness expert who travels with Australian professional Cameron Smith, is on hand just to ensure that the team can maintain their peak physical abilities down the stretch. To do so, Randall says they will need to consume an inordinate amount of water.

“Depending on body size, I expect anywhere between 7 and 9 litres a day,” said Randall, while following the players on course during today’s practice round.

And the players listened. Ryan Ruffels went through 13 bottles during a five hour slog on course, while Jarryd Felton reached 15 – yet he still suffered from a headache on the closing holes.

Even from a non-competitive round, the Aussies will need a massage and ice baths just to recover.

For Randall, rotating six players through a bath and massage in his hotel room is enough of a logistical nightmare, without considering where the ice is coming from.

 “I think I’ll just have to find the nearest shop and buy some in bulk!”

Randall says he is just there help the players stick to their assigned programs by their state or national physios, and the effort required to stay in top shape will rest squarely on their shoulders.

“They were in the gym this morning at 7am for a session, and everyone trained which was good to see, but they’ll need to train between three and four times during the week as well.”

Post-round, the 17-year-old Ryan Ruffles looked like he had been on a light stroll, but he echoed these sentiments.

“[Clearwater] is up and down some massive hills. It’s not an easy walk at all,” said Ruffels on the bus trip back to the hotel.

“Today was 35 degrees at 100% humidity, and the course — well I guess the members normally use carts to get around it. It’s definitely going to be a survival of the fittest.”

While Randall will ensure the players make it through to the Sunday in great condition, professional caddy Paul Skinner is on hand to ensure they don’t waste any shots in the process.

To combat the unknown entity of the course, Skinner arrived in Hong Kong three days in advance of the team.

“My goal is to make sure that after two practice rounds our players know exactly where they can and can’t go,” said Skinner, who learned the ropes from Australian golfing legend Peter Fowler, and spent many years working with US Open campion Geoff Ogilvy.

“When you think about what is at stake, it’s a huge prize on offer. A Masters invite is by far the biggest thing you can win as an amateur. With so much on the line, two days wasn’t enough to fit in all of the course preparation.”

Skinner rates the course as a worthy test for the prize, saying it’s nothing like any other course you would find in Asia, or even Australia.

 “The only one I can think of is The National down on the peninsula in Melbourne. [Clearwater] has that kind of layout where the wind can whip up very similarly. But I think it’s as close as you’ll probably get, or as far away as you would get from your typical Asian course.”

Skinner said that he expects this to negate the usual advantage given to local golfers, rather than play into the hands of the Australians — providing that the weather stays calm and hot like it did on Tuesday.

“If the wind gets up like I expect it to, I think it’s far more suitable the Australians, as they are strong and have the ability to deal with that test.”

Speaking post-round, Ruffels and Skinner had similar theories about what will matter the most this week.

“This course is just so demanding off the tee,” said Ruffels.

“It’s not like home where you miss the fairway and all you face is a bit of rough and a tough shot in. It’s literally a situation where you need to re-hit if you miss the fairway.”

“I can’t imagine anyone doing well this week without driving the ball well. That’s going to be the key to winning.”

It’s telling that the level of preparation will not lead to any overconfidence in the Australian camp. Boasting some of the strongest amateur golfers in the region, Australians have won just a single title in the event’s six years.

And even that champion, Antonio Murdaca, suffered today from the slightest error in his planning.

The combination of the physical exertion, heat and a minor asthma condition left Murdaca struggling for air, abandoning his round half-way through his final nine.

After watching most of Murdaca’s round, Skinner said the South Australian was hitting the ball well, and will be fine for the rest of the week — providing he doesn’t leave his asthma puffer in the hotel room.

“It probably wasn’t the best place to leave it, to be honest,” joked Skinner.

“It was just the heat. He said he felt the same a few months ago when playing in Carolina. So we’ll need to make sure he has everything he needs with him for the next round.”

Preparation is not an indicator, but a pre-cursor towards success. By getting the small things right, the Australian team can ensure they have the best chance of another amateur making an appearance at the Masters.

As the defending champion, Murdaca is the only member of the contingent who knows what it’s like to walk Augusta's fairways.

Even as a veteran of the game, Skinner bemoans that he has not ticked that prestigious box. To him, that experience that would be “fantastic”.

Luckily for physio Nick Randall, his protégé in Cameron Smith has his Masters invite secured for 2016 — thanks to Smith’s T4 finish at this year’s US Open.

Randall already has a house booked in Augusta, and says he would be happy to have the company.

 “The more the merrier! I’m looking forward to it big time. Can’t wait.”