Just 18 months ago young Australian Jordan Zunic’s golf career hung in the balance as he lay in a hospital bed. Now those thoughts have been replaced by joy as the 22-year-old triumphed in the $1million New Zealand Open.
Zunic, a former star amateur, was badly injured in a serious car crash while in the US.
But on Sunday, in a remarkable turnaround, he clinched the NZ title in Arrowtown in only his fourth start as a professional, winning by a shot from Victorian David Branson, a former Oates Vic Open runner-up.
And just as he fought back from his injuries, he took the crown the hard way.
Zunic missed his PGA Tour of Australasia card at this year’s qualifying school and only managed to tee up last week in the event, out of Wellington, courtesy of a top 10 finish the previous week in the NZ PGA Championship.
And for that tournament he had to qualify to get in the field on the Monday.
The immediate future now looks bright for the Wollongong rookie pro as he wins a two-year exemption in Australasia and three tournament invites on the more lucrative Japan Golf Tour.
His winner’s cheque for $171,000, plus an extra $12,000 for winning the pro-am with his partner Maryanne Marlow, will also come in handy.
It was an emotional Sunday for Zunic who reflected back to the day in 2013 when he was a passenger in a major accident with fellow amateurs.
He was hospitalised for a week with injuries that included a triple-fracture of his left elbow, and bad head cuts and a significant loss of blood. Bed-ridden for several months, he began to have doubts about his career.
"It was tough coming back from that," he said. "I didn’t know whether I’d be able to play golf again. Since then, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I’ve played good, and then not so good.
"No matter how bad things got, I had that determination to get better, because this is where I want to be. I worked my butt off, and it’s nice to get some rewards for your hard work."
Ironically, Zunic said that the mental strength required to come back after his car crash had carried over into his golf game when he resumed playing.
"When I started playing again, I just felt so grateful to be breathing and out there playing golf," he said. "I could have easily died, and that actually helped me play better.
"The first six months there were some medical issues I had to get over. Once I got over them, I feel like it’s really built character for me and made me a little wiser.
"I know it was horrible at the time but I feel like it’s made me a stronger person. As my dad always says, everything happens for a reason."
On Sunday Zunic made a stunning birdie at the final hole as he walked up the 18th fairway at The Hills tied for the lead with Bransdon at 20-under par.
He rifled a nine-iron from 150 metres and sunk the metre putt for victory.
"I picked my target, and when I hit it, it felt perfect," he said. "I’m still in disbelief. I’m trying to pinch myself to say that this happened.
Zunic finished with a six-under 66 and at 21-under for the week. Bransdon had an eight-under 64 and birdied eight of his final 10 holes, including a spectacular chip-in at the par-three 16th.
By: Robert Grant