When Anthony Quayle pondered who might become his arch rival on the Japan Golf Tour this year, it’s safe to Y.E. Yang’s name probably didn’t spring to mind.
But now, three months into his Japanese odyssey, the young Gold Coaster might have to reconsider.
Quayle, 23, was beaten into a share of second place in Nagoya at the weekend in the JGT’s prestigious Crowns tournament by the 2009 US PGA Championship winner.
Remarkably, the 46-year-old Korean also pipped Quayle at the line when they were battling out medallist honours at the JGT’s Q-School earlier this year.
“He clipped me at Q-school, too, I can’t believe it,” Quayle said with a chuckle.
“I played with him in the fifth round there and he shot five under and I was seven (under), so I was walking off course with my chest out a bit.
“Then you wouldn’t believe it, he shot eight under in the final round to clip me for medallist.”
So, as the sporting adage goes, it never pays to rule out a champion – even if they’re in an eight-year drought.
Yang wound back the clock at the weekend with four consecutive rounds of three-under-par 67 enough to win one of the Japanese tour’s most in-demand titles from Quayle and Jung-gon Hwang, both four off the pace.
“If I was going to lose to anyone, I’m sort of glad it was Y.E.,” Quayle said. “He’s a nice guy and takes an interest in you when you play, so it’s hard to not like him.”
Another who took a strong interest in Quayle’s progress was his fiancée Sophia, who was rapt with the 10 million Yen pay packet for a share of second, a figure that translates to roughly $120,000, but also something far more important.
Quayle’s effort will help his rookie season no end, effectively pushing up in the re-rank so that he’s eligible for all bar the absolute cream of the Japanese tour’s tournaments.
“What it really does, I suppose, is that it helps you settle in over here and takes a weight off the shoulders for the rest of year,” Quayle said.
“I should be set through the re-ranks and able to play for some bigger purses. But another big thing is that it also gives you confidence you can play on a bigger stage, that you can adapt quickly and feel like you’re coming off a good platform.”
Quayle, a successful amateur before taking the pro plunge last year, is yet to have the large-scale victory that has narrowly eluded him a few times in his short pay-for-play career.
“But it feels close. I keep putting myself in good postions in good events, and I keep getting closer,” he said.
“That’s been good. Each time I get a bit more self-belief and the ability to handle situations that help you out down the track. The Aussie Open (where he finished T19 after being two off the halfway lead) helped a little bit, for example, by playing in front of big crowds and these were bigger again. They were huge crowds, so playing in front of people in Sydney helped.”
Quayle fired rounds of 65 and 68 to push himself into contention in Nagoya before backing up with an unusual third-round 72.
“I was pretty happy with the week, even though the third round didn’t go the right way,” he said.
“I actually was hitting it nicely and even led the field in greens hit for third round, but I just couldn’t get it in hole.
“But I walked off the course feeling good, so was still pretty confident about the last round … and it turned out well.
“I hit a lot of quality shots; some under pressure in big moments. I had a chance in the last 5-6 holes, played them one under and they were tough, so that was good.
“A bogey on the last cost me some cash, but I was happy to push through the field with others back-tracking a bit.”
Quayle, originally from Gove in the Northern Territory, paid tribute to his caddie, Scott Bint, who caddied at the Crowns for Canberra’s Brendan Jones when he won the event in 2011.
“It’s one of those courses where there are so many subtleties you have to learn and it’s difficult to pick them up under pressure, so Scotty was really important to me this week.
“They’re quick greens, really slopey and have a lot of run-offs, so you have to be pretty defensive – he helped me a lot with where not to be.”
Matt Griffin continued his good run at the Crowns with his second top-10 in three years.
Griffin’s best Japanese result came at this event two years ago with a T5 finish and he added to his liking for the course with another solid T6 result with rounds of 69-67-69-69.
Jones finished T10 despite closing with a 73, while David Bransdon was next best of the Australaians in T23.
Scott Strange (60) and Brad Kennedy (T61) were the other Australasians to reach the weekend’s action, with Sydney’s Won Joon Lee the only one to miss the cut.