Date: April 26, 2016
Author: Tom Fee, GolfWA

Amateurs no sideshow at WA Open

Gone are the days of the surprise amateur victory in Australian professional golf.

At the 2012 WA Open, Oliver Goss and Brady Watt were a shock 1-2 at Royal Perth Golf Club — but few will do a double take if youth was to prevail again at this week’s Nexus Risk TSA Group WA Open at WA Golf Club.

Of the 132-strong field, and incredible 30 are amateurs after 14 made it through today's pre-qualifying. Runner-up in 2015, Curtis Luck threw down the gauntlet a month ago at the WAGC Amateur, shooting rounds of 66 and 64 around the par 70 layout. His 10-under total after 36 holes would match the winning 72 hole total the last time the WA Open visited WA Golf Club in 2010.

Chatting during today's practice round, Luck agreed that he and his fellow amateurs weren’t just there to make up the numbers.

“It's definitely a good chance [to have an amateur winner],” said Luck.

“It is a course that’s not long, and it suits all sorts of games. You can really go around this course mentally and plod your way around or you can just go around bombing it and hit short shots in.

“I think that there’s a really strong young field, and with the way this course is playing, anyone could win this week.”

Luck is joined by all of his teammates in the WA state team, including 15 year old WA Amateur champion Fred Lee, and Min Woo Lee who finished T10 at last year’s WA Open.

But they’ll all need to look over their shoulder for NSW trio Cameron Davis, Harrison Endycott and Travis Smyth, as well as Victorian Brett Coletta.

Davis, Endycott and Coletta are all members of the Golf Australia national squad. Davis remains as Australia’s highest ranked golfer at Number 27 in the world despite missing the majority of the summer through injury. Endycott, ranked 40th in the world, has surged on the scene in the past few months, coming off a run of four straight wins on the amateur circuit — highlighted by victories at Riversdale and the SA Masters.

A fifth straight win will be a lot harder against a professional field, but Endycott feels confident with the course suiting his eye.

“The course is beautiful, I’ve played here once before and I remember a lot of good things about it,” said Endycott.

“It’s short and tight and a lot like Avondale, the course I play at home. It will be great to see few of the amateurs up there at the end and hopefully I can play well and be one of those.”

Fellow New South Welshman Travis Smyth also compared WA Golf Club favourably to the courses he plays in Sydney.

“I got eight holes in yesterday before the rain and hope to play the rest today. It’s good, it’s just like a Sydney course with its tight fairways and it’s pretty hilly. There are lots of dogleg holes which means you need to work the ball everywhere — I’m really looking forward to it.”

Smyth is getting used to seeing youth prevail on PGA Tour of Australasia events, especially in his home state with the 2015 NSW Open won by then amateur Ben Eccles before Jarryd Felton won his first pro event at the NSW PGA — just months after making the jump from amateur golf..

“It’s awesome to see those guys to do well in pro events," said Smyth

"It’s kinda given us a bit of a chip on shoulder – but we also know that if we play well we can do that as well.

“Everyone has sorta beaten everyone else before, and we’re all great players when our game is good so it’s definitely a confidence booster.”

Even last week at the PNG Open, Queensland amateur Anthony Quayle almost upset the field of professionals, falling alongside Aaron Wilkin to Brad Moules in a three way playoff. All three have made the trip from PNG to Perth, making Quayle yet another amateur name to watch out for.

Despite the potential of the amateur field, it’s hard to ignore that this is a professional event featuring those with the game and the experience to dominate the WA Golf Club layout — and even the professionals have youth on their side in Felton, Todd Sinnott and Antonio Murdaca to name a few.

But when it comes to experience, 2016 Victorian Open champion Michael Long, runner-up Matt Millar and defending WA Open champion Daniel Fox all loom large as biggest contenders from the regulars on tour. Long is the highest ranked player on the order of merit at Number 5, while Millar sits 7th and coming off an outstanding 2015 that saw him named the PGA Tour of Australasia Player of the Year.

Even the legendary Stephen Leaney can’t be ruled out after continuing after finishing tied for 3rd at the Vic Open, behind only Long and Millar.

Leaney is living proof that it takes something special to succeed at this level, having won the WA Open five times before. This year’s WA Open marks the 25th anniversary of Leaney’s first win at Meadow Springs, which was special for another reason – in that he won it as an amateur.