Karl Vilips and potential have long been commonly linked themes.
At Royal Melbourne today, the young Victorian prodigy took another step towards snapping that bond.
Vilips, at 15 far younger than many in the world-class field at the Australian Master of the Amateurs this week, carded a fine 68 on slick greens at the club’s famous West Course.
It was good enough for a one-shot lead over Sydney’s James Grierson and the Sunshine Coast’s Charlie Dann, with six players tied for fourth at 70.
World No.6, England’s Scott Gregory was the highest-profile victim of the glassy Royal Melbourne greens, firing an 81 to fall from contention despite an eagle on the second, while Australia’s top-ranked attendees Harrison Endycott and Travis Smyth did likewise with rounds of 80.
But Vilips, based predominantly in Florida, used his Sandbelt knowledge to his advantage, playing the front nine in 32 to storm through the field after starting sluggishly on the 10th.
It was a continuation of great form with the Melbourne-raised teen, who chipped in for eagle to win the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl International in Florida last week to continue in the footsteps of former winner Tiger Woods.
“My first eight holes today were rusty and I was one over – I had a nine-iron into the (relatively short) par-five 15th (for my second shot) and only just managed to make a par, so that pretty much summed it up,” Vilips said.
“But I made a 50-foot putt on 18 which was pretty crucial because it gave me momentum and I birdied two, three and four, made a very good two-putt par on five because there were plenty of guys four-putting and a few putting off that green.
“I made a good up-an-down on six, then made a good birdie from the left rough on nine, so everything just clicked … my putting was rusty until I figured the greens out again, but then it was pretty good.”
Vilips has physically matured to the point where his drives are now flying in excess of 250m and speaks with experience beyond his tender years.
“I can control the ball in the wind a lot easier now being able to compress it better, but being older I have more maturity now around the course and know where to hit the ball a bit better.
“Like coming off Orange Bowl and playing on greens where the balls were spinning 15 feet to come home and adjust to these greens where you have to land the ball 15 yards short and run it up.
“But it feels great to be on a course that I know – I have to change up my game, but it’s a fun task.”
Dann, similarly, has a great fondness for Royal Melbourne, where he charged to the lead in this event last year only to falter on the closing holes.
“I love this place, ever since I got here last year it’s been a fun place to play.
“I surprisingly learned a game plan quickly last year and found it quite successful. I’ve kept the same course guide as last year and I’m just sticking it with it.
“It’s a bit repetitive, I suppose, but I think that’s what you’ve got to do around here – you can’t shoot for birdie on every hole, you’ve just got to put it in the right places and putt well.
Dann, winner at Mandurah and Keperra in 2016 as well as finishing runner-up at Federal, credits the tournament with providing his springboard to such a successful national campaign.
“I was pretty nervous coming down the stretch last year, but I learnt from it and won a few times,” he said.
“This tournament started my good year and it went from there. Every time I needed to refocus, I sort of took myself back to how I felt at this event last year and got in this position then. It helped a lot.”
Another who impressed was American Andrew McCain, whose three-putt bogey on the last consigned him to the group at two under, but otherwise seemed right at home.
The Minnesotan spent several years – because of his mother’s employment – based in Queensland and has a strong affinity with the history of Royal Melbourne and the Sandbelt’s ability to bite hard.
“I played the Vic Am in 2014 and I played across the street at Victoria, so when we finished playing I was able to get over here and get a quick look at the course back then.
“I don’t know if helped too much … but it’s obviously a treat to be here on this course.
“I think what it showed me is not to push too hard here and take what you can when you can and that’s pretty much what I did today.
“I started well (with birdies on 2-4) and from there just really hung on and did what I had to. It’s nice to be up there to start.”