Date: January 05, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

AMOTA: Grierson stuns big names

Rags-to-riches stories aren’t written after second rounds.

But New South Welshman James Grierson is a classic tale in the making at this week’s Australian Master of the Amateurs.

Grierson fired a 67 on Royal Melbourne’s West Course today – his 13 birdies in his opening two rounds completely belying his inexperience at both this level and of Victoria’s Sandbelt.

His eight-under-par total was good enough for a one-shot halfway lead over the Sunshine Coast’s Charlie Dann, with Geelong giant Jack Murdoch a further shot back in third.

And on a second straight day of wild scoring fluctuations, 2015 champ Zach Murray put his name back in the fray with a 68 to move up to T4 alongside fellow Victorian Matias Sanchez (71) at three under.

Ben Shintaro  was the standout among his American compatriots with a 69 to join Perth’s Ben Ferguson at two under, while popular pair Shae Wools-Cobb and Blake Windred are the only others in red figures at one under.

First-round leader Karl Vilips was one of several big hopes who battled on day two with his 76 sending him back to even par overall, with Andrew McCain (79 to be +5) joined world No.6 Scott Gregory (75 to be +12) in the list of those no longer in contention.

And they’re all looking up at Grierson, one of the unlikeliest of leaders in a star-studded international field.

The affable 24-year-old didn’t even take up competitive golf until he called time on a promising rugby career at age 18 and only really got the bug last year when several of his Sydney mates convinced him to play some big amateur events in the United States.

A T9 finish at the Eastern Amateur in Virginia was followed by winning medallist honours at the Pacific North-West Amateur near Seattle, then a quarter-final berth in a “small tournament in Louisiana” to prove to himself that he belonged.

“It gave me the confidence to know that I can definitely do this … having good weeks back to back when you’re not known is fun,” said Grierson, whose name might soon be far more broadly known.

“I’m happy to lose my anonymity, but I really just want to play golf. Whatever happens here happens. I can’t control what others do, so I’ll be happy to just keep enjoying my time here and see what that is.”

Grierson had never been to Royal Melbourne until Sunday morning when he “took advantage of three practice rounds” to familiarise himself with a layout he once only dreamed of playing.

And further insight into his level-headed though process came when asked if his goal was now to join the illustrious list of AMOTA champions.

“Of course I want to do well, but I really just want to play two more rounds at Royal Melbourne, it’s just a great experience.”

Grierson is a member at Bonnie Doon in eastern Sydney, but is the first to admit he “hasn’t done much” on the Australian amateur scene.

“When I came back home (from the US), I didn’t play very well and had to go and earn some money to play a bit more … and here I am.”

The Forbes-raised golfer, who worked as a bartender and labourer in recent months to be able to afford to play in Melbourne for these three weeks (including the Australian Amateur Championship from January 17-22), doesn’t even have a permanent address in Sydney.

“Let’s just say I’m looking for a house,” joked Grierson, who’s bunking in with his uncle while in Melbourne.

Dann, whose love affair with Royal Melbourne stems back to leading this event late last year on debut, continued his excellent form despite what his caddie described as “man flu”.

“Ha, ha. Yes, that’s it,” Dann said with a grin after battling poor health around his favourite course, yet still managing seven birdies and only ceding a share of the lead with a bogey on the ninth, his last hole.

“It actually feels like I’m in a real groove around here and playing pretty boring golf because I think you have to respect Royal Melbourne to play well here,” the Queenslander said.

“I feel like I’m just putting the ball in the middle of the green and taking it from there, so I’ll just keep on doing that, hopefully.”

Murdoch, a member at nearby Kingston Heath, also fired eight birdies and led until playing partner Grierson’s superb birdie-birdie finish.

And Murray, of Wodonga, ominously for the field, showed flashes of his brilliant best in making just one bogey to move into the mix.