Date: April 19, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

NSW girls burst into timely title bloom

Live scores:
Australian Girls' Interstate Teams
Australian Boys' Interstate Teams

If ever there was an omen for the New South Wales girls at the Junior Interstate Series, it came on the 14th tee of the picturesque Devonport Golf Club.

A lone Waratah flower, the state’s floral emblem, bloomed into a brilliant autumnal red this week, in perfect timing to be the backdrop of the Blues’ thrilling final-day triumph over Queensland that sealed the title.

The young Maroons entered the final round unbeaten, knowing a halved match with their southern rivals would be enough to secure the title.

But the Blues, who’d bonded wonderfully as a team by sharing a house all week, had other ideas to storm home and win 3-2 for their first title since 2010, also in Tasmania at nearby Ulverstone.

After Victoria – which had earlier beaten NSW and lost to Queensland – beat Western Australia 4-1 in another morning encounter, three states were locked on 4-1 after their five matches.

But New South Wales reigned with a +12 matches won differential, narrowly edging out Queensland (+10) with Victoria (+6) third.

The Composite Team – a combination of players from Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT – finished a commendable fourth with a 2-3 record in its debut outing, ahead of Western Australia (1-4) and South Australia (0-5).

NSW national coach Dean Kinney said he and other team managers had noticed the Waratah, but hadn’t mentioned it to the athletes.

“We just thought that’s really bizarre, just a single Waratah flower in perfect bloom – it had to be an omen,” Kinney joked after his team’s come-from-behind win.

“It was just a great effort by all the girls – we had a really big team focus and just did everything to work on that team environment all week.

“We stayed in a house rather than a hotel, all the girls had their input in decisions and there was no real hierarchy. We had home-cooked meals and it really felt like a home match for us rather than being away.

“And when it comes down to being that close in the end, those one percenters can become really important and maybe that team bond just got us over the line.”

It didn’t always shape up that way.

Lisa Edgar gave Queensland a great start in the No.5 match, slowly but surely edging away for a 4&3 win over Amy Chu.

But after a rollercoaster match, what became the pivotal point came in match No.4 with Wollongong’s Stef Hall recovering from 3-down to Darcy Habgood to charge home for a 2&1 victory.

Becky Kay re-established Queensland’s lead with a quality 3&2 win over Hannah Park in match No.2, but by that stage, both Doey Choi and Celina Yuan had insurmountable leads at No.3 and No.1 respectively for New South Wales.

Choi prevailed 3&1 over Stacey White, while Yuan, the 2015 individual champion, hung tough to beat last week’s successor to her throne Karis Davidson 3&2 to send the New South Wales girls into party mode.

“We were all holding hands around that 16th green – it was really intense and such an amazing feeling of nerves,” Hall said of watching the final match.

“Celina made a wonderful lag putt down for par, so Karis needed her birdie from about eight feet to keep the match going and she hit a great putt that just lipped out.

“It was sad for Karis, but we were absolutely thrilled … jumping around and hugging each other.

“It was an amazing feeling, especially for Celina in her last match as a junior for New South Wales.”

Hall’s own match was the stuff of final-day dreams.

Amazingly the Shellharbor Anglican College student was 1-down after four holes despite being one under the card as Habgood opened spectacularly with four straight birdies.

Hall said she felt “a little overwhelmed” by her Toowoomba opponent’s imperious start, so quickly reassessed her tactics.

“It was like, `Whoa, pars aren’t just going to get the job done here’,” she said.

So the 16-year-old adopted her new plan with stunning effect.

After a win with par on the seventh, she birdied the eighth to pull within one and said her “confidence was getting higher”.

“But we both hit great shots into 10 and halved it in birdies and it just felt like I couldn’t quite get her.

“I turned to my caddie (Belinda Ji) and said, `I’m not going to let this (match) go down 18’. She said, `Good idea’, and that was it.

“I decided just to play my own game and shoot the lights out – and I did!

“I hit a drive to the bottom of the hill (on the par-5 11th) and hit an 8-iron to (4m) and made the eagle to finally get square.

A “pumped” drive down 13 resulted in another birdie to hit the front and she doubled that lead with par on the 14th.

Again par wasn’t good enough on the 15th as the young Queenslander pulled back to 1-down.

A birdie on 16 restored a dormie 2-up lead and a par was enough up the 17th for Hall to breathe after a spectacular, still incomplete, round of eight under par.

“I was so relieved and excited and nervous and everything all in one – it was really intense,” Hall said.

“But we had such great team spirit and we all wanted to win because it’s been five years (since NSW won) and for Celina, so it’s great to do it for our state and all the managers and coaches who helped us.

“It’s a great feeling.”

So it was fitting that the girls began their party around the Waratah.

Live scores:
Australian Girls' Interstate Teams
Australian Boys' Interstate Teams