Wodonga’s Zach Murray is the 2015 Australian Master of the Amateurs champion after a record-breaking effort at Royal Melbourne.
Murray, not 18 until late March, is the youngest champion in the tournament’s 18th editions and his 12-under-par 276 aggregate is the lowest recorded.
And while the Commonwealth GC pennant star’s win will look comfortable after rounds of 69-69-67-71 to beat fellow the Golf Australia national squad member Cory Crawford by two shots, the closing moments were dramatic.
Murray had barely made a false swing all week until he came up short on the par-three 16th tee, then unexpectedly bumped his second through the green and took bogey to slash a shot off what had been a four-shot buffer.
His heart then flew into his mouth when he flared an iron tee shot off the 17th into a bunker so far short and right off the 17th tee that some seasoned onlookers didn’t even know it existed.
Murray didn’t know the sand was there and even hit a provisional ball fearing the worst and his pulse rate only became controlled again when he saw the ball plugged in the face and not in the thick ti-tree immediately behind the pot.
He proceeded to escape with “one of the better bogeys” in his golfing life before making a regulation four up the last hole to seal victory.
“That’s just huge – I played unreal this week, it’s my biggest win yet and it feels great,” beamed Murray, who had been exemplary until his not unexpected dose of nerves.
“My heart was in my mouth when I hit that shot. I had no idea there was even a bunker over there,” he said.
“I wasn’t in a good state at that moment (before I hit a provisional tee shot) because I was walking up there thinking it was in the ti-tree.
“Then the bunker (lie) wasn’t ideal, but the I was able to get a shot on it which was pretty handy.”
For reference, the most likely point of relief for a penalty drop had the ball flown 2m further would likely have been back towards the 12th green, leaving a large score on the cards.
But that wasn’t on Murray’s mind.
“I was half-buried, but hacked a seven-iron out, hit a solid five-iron to 20 feet and just missed the putt.
“From there it didn’t feel too bad.”
Murray paid tribute to playing partner and long-time mate and Yarrawonga golfer Frazer Droop, who had himself blown out of contention only minutes earlier with a wayward double-bogey on the 15th.
The pair, also pennant teammates, had shared many laughs playing together for 36 holes, but no words were more important than those shared up the closing two holes.
“I needed to compose myself for a minute … but I went up to `Droopy’ after that and we walked the whole 17th and 18th together.
“I’ve known Frazer for a long time and it was good to share that experience with him.”
Murray, who paid tribute to Golf Australia course management coach Paul Skinner for his shot selection lessons, said he’d learnt invaluable lessons before and during the tournament.
“I played really well for first 15 holes (today) and had a couple of mishaps on the last couple, but still, that’s how it happens,” said Murray, whose on-course demeanour is exceptional.
“But I kept and just played my game as I’ve been doing all week.
“Even when it was tough I think I still managed to smile – and that’s important to me.”
Murray won the rights to play in a handful of major amateur events in the UK and USA later in the year.
But it’s testament to his level-headed nature that he’s not even sure he’ll take up the opportunities so he can focus on his Year 12 studies at Catholic College in Wodonga.
“We’ll see. I don’t have to make up my mind yet … but it’s a big year and I’ve got to stay on top of the studies first.”
And he was quick to quash any talk of turning professional any time soon.
“It’s not even on my mind at the moment. I’ve gotta finish this year and hope to continue my golf at the VIS next year – we’ll just see how I go from there.
“Right now it just feels great to be on that list of great names (including past champ Jason Day) and when I look back in the future to see my name among them will be a good feeling.”
Crawford (69) reached nine under early in his round, but back-to-back bogeys on the 6th and 7th holes took him out of the picture for much of the afternoon.
It wasn’t until the Queenslander surged again late that Murray was challenged with Droop (76 to be -5) and Jake McLeod (74 for -6) not charging in the final group.
American Bryson DeChambeau (70) and Torquay’s Ben Eccles (72) shared third place at eight under.
Other GA national squad members had mixed afternoons. Cam Davis couldn’t repeat Thursday’s heroics en route to a T12 finish after a 72 left him four under.
Ryan Ruffels (68) and Brett Coletta (68) charged through the field to finish -2 and +1 respectively with both saying they played better as the week unfolded.
Lucas Herbert closed with a 75 to finish one over, while Antonio Murdaca shot even par to finish three over and T44.