Date: January 20, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes

#AusAm: Irishman wins epic final


Conor Purcell had a Guinness in hand to kickstart the celebrations of his Australian Amateur Championship triumph.

It was just that nobody was sure whether the jubilant Irishman was in party mode – or just trying to calm his nerves after an epic, nail-biting final against Nathan Barbieri that was decided on the first extra hole.

The match had ebbed and flowed with some largely wonderful golf on the pristine Woodlands layout.

But as entertaining as the combined 17 birdies of a quality final were, the match really came to life in the final hour when Barbieri fought back from four down with 10 holes to play to force an extra hole.

The emerging New South Welshman, who played extra holes in the Round of 32 and won his semi-final after being three down with five to play, again showed incredible pluck.

Barbieri’s fight was typified when, still two down as he walked to the 35th, drilled his tee shot to within 1.5m, then roared as he walked his birdie putt to keep the match alive.

The drama then intensified when, from the right rough, Purcell’s second to the par-five 36th hole raced across the fairway and up the path next to the clubhouse.

Barbieri suddenly had new life when the Irishman couldn’t scramble par and when he pumped his tee shot down the middle of the 37th, looked as though momentum could carry him home.

But he tugged a 122m approach left and his subsequent bump shot down the hill past the pin simply wouldn’t stop in time for an easy return par attempt.

Meanwhile, Purcell, with composure regained, lagged his birdie putt to kick-in range and was conceded his par.

Barbieri stood over his putt, ultimately going to the well once too often for even the cliffhanger gods, and blocked his par try narrowly right.

Purcell was politely mobbed by a horde of Irish fans who’d come to watch him play, becoming the country’s first Australian Amateur champion in the tournament’s storied 125-year history.

And as the prize of exemptions into the Australian Open and Vic Open fields – plus the surprise honorary membership later bestowed on him by the host club – became a reality, the humble youngster was still shocked.

“The last few holes were a bit edgy, but to cap it off on the playoff hole was nice,” said Purcell, who had his brother Gary on the bag for the final and later had his trophy presentation played live via Facetime to his parents in Dublin.

“Credit to Nathan, he made a couple of great shots when he needed to today and it was pretty tense that last few minutes.

“Funnily enough I was more nervous on the first tee this morning than I was going down the playoff hole – I felt quite comfortable still because I’d been playing well all week.”

Barbieri, a member at Monash Country Club in Sydney and New South Wales state representative, was equal parts proud and devastated.

“He had a putt on nine (the 27th hole) to go five up on me and I just fought … as hard as I could. I couldn’t give any more,” an emotional Barbieri said.

“Fortunately I made a birdie on 17 and 18 (35 and 36) was all mine. Then (in the playoff) I hit a good tee shot but just pulled my second and not in the best place.

“I’m obviously really disappointed, but I’m so proud of myself how I’ve gone this week.”