Date: November 18, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes, Huntingdale

Eccles goes pro after NSW win

Boom Victorian Ben Eccles has turned professional on the eve of the Australian Masters.

Eccles, who stunned a top-class field to win the New South Wales Open on Sunday, made the call late yesterday and will formally announce it at Huntingdale this afternoon.

The 20-year-old from Torquay on the Surf Coast became just the fifth amateur since 1931 to lift the Kel Nagle Cup – and it proved the final push in the professional direction.

“I can honestly say I’m living my dream,” Eccles said.

“It has been a whirlwind since Sunday, but I’m absolutely rapt to get to where I’ve been working to get to for a long time.

“I’m just really grateful for everyone’s support and I’ve been speaking to all the right people about (the decision) and we’ve all come to the same conclusion – it’s time.”

Eccles finished tied for third at one of his home courses, 13th Beach, in this year’s Vic Open, and played in the final group at the Victorian PGA Championship. He also led for large parts of the revered Canadian Amateur Championship in August before finishing sixth.

But after tossing around the idea of playing for money for months, Eccles said the feeling he could compete constantly at that high level had tipped him over the edge.

“The way I handled the pressure of Sunday proved to a few people that I could do that, but more importantly proved it to myself that I could do it,” he said.

“To have that pressure applied on me and stand up to it, I finally can say I feel comfy in being in that position.

“Maybe 12 months ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that, but I’ve been working hard with at the VIS and with (Golf Australia mental coach) Noel Blundell on how to go through all the thought processes and hopefully that showed up on Sunday.”

Golf Australia high performance director Brad James said Eccles’ results in Australia and around the world in the past 12 months had showcased his abilities.

“Ben has a world-class team around him with the Victorian Institute of Sport and coach Darren Cole,” James said.

“We are excited to see how Ben further develops as he moves to the next stage of his career.”

Cole said Eccles’ game had flourished, particularly in the past year, because of his strong work ethic.

“He’s fully developed now and has shown last week that he can produce his best under pressure and go on and win,” Cole said.

“Ben’s a really hard worker – his fitness and swing have really improved at the VIS in the past three years and he’s come a long way and really developed himself and his game.

“He’s a pretty mature kid and deserves his shot because he’s worked so hard to create this opportunity for himself.”

It’s understood Eccles will push in the medium term to qualify for the European Tour and his win at Stonecutters Ridge on Sunday assured him of a two-year exemption on the Australian PGA Tour.