r a life-threatening experience, Jordan Zunic has come back stronger and better than ever.
Zunic, 22, who was involved in a near-fatal car accident while travelling and playing in the United States last year, won the China Amateur in Changyang, outside Beijing, over the weekend.
It was an event that went under the radar given that the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (with its lure of a spot in the field at the Masters next year) was in Melbourne, but it is the biggest win of Zunic’s career.
The lad from Port Kembla, south of Wollongong, recovered from a first-round 81, nine-over par, in windswept conditions to pick his way through the field, then a tournament equal-low 68 on the final day put him into a playoff.
At the second hole of the playoff, he holed a two-metre birdie putt to clinch the title.
Yet 12 months ago he was unsure if he could ever play golf again, having been a passenger in a major accident with fellow-players Ricky Kato and Viraat Bhadwar. Zunic was hospitalised for a week with injuries that included a triple-fracture of his left elbow, bad head cuts and a significant loss of blood.
He did not play any golf for three months. “It’s been a year and two months now,’’ he told golf.org.au. “The first two months I was pretty much bed-ridden, I played no golf at all. I had three months off and then the next two months after I started playing it was a rollercoaster. I played a few times, I’d play alright but my elbow was getting sore. It flared up and I needed time off.’’
Certainly his family and Zunic himself were concerned about his future in the game. “The doctors said I should be okay because I’m young. But everyone was worried. I was worried. The thing that killed me was that I’d qualified to play the US amateur, a week from then, and I had to pull out.’’
A course record 63, nine-under par at his home course in Port Kembla recently suggested to him that he was back with his mojo. China merely confirms that.
As he plotted his way around the course on the final day, each successive leaderboard told him that he was getting closer to the final group, until the 15th. “Pretty much all day I knew what was happening, but on the about the 15th hole I saw that I was tied for the lead and I thought ‘I can’t believe this is happening’.’’
“I was disappointed (after the opening 81) but then when I saw the lead was three-over, and I was six behind. ‘You know what six shots in three days, it’s possible’. My goal was just to claw my way back each day a little bit at a time and put myself in with a chance in the last round. I was five back going into the last day but I played really well. My game plan was to play solid and give myself chances, I holed a few putts, and I was really happy to shoot four-under.’’
It was Zunic’s first win overseas, “kind of a big deal for me’’, but hopefully not his last. He will play the Federal Amateur next week, then the New South Wales Open and qualifying for the Emirates Australian Open. At the end of the year, he intends turning professional and will play the Australasian PGA Tour school and the Asian Tour school in January.
The accident has been consigned to the past, and he credits coach Warwick Dews, his family and his sports psychologist, Matt Howe, with getting him to the other side.
“We were in the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ he said. “In the end, I’m happy that I’m alive, number one, and that I can still play golf. It was nice to get that win, finally, for my confidence.
“I think it’s made me a stronger person, what happened to me. It’s an eye-opener for life in general. It really makes you appreciate life because someone my age doesn’t normally go through something like that. You appreciate how fragile life can be.
“It just teaches you to live each day to the fullest because you never know when your last day’s going to be. I’m still here, I can play golf, I’m happy I can still chase my dream.’’