Date: January 04, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Murray keeps title defence in perspective

Zach Murray has a legitimate shot at golfing history this week as he defends his Australian Master of the Amateurs title – it’s just that you wouldn’t know it by talking to him.

Murray, 18, won the tournament’s green jacket last year for arguably the biggest victory in his burgeoning career.

But having fallen for a similar trap in 2014 when defending his Victorian Amateur title, the knockabout Wodonga lad is putting no pressure on himself at Royal Melbourne this week.

“I was worried too much about going back-to-back and just didn’t play well that week and I don’t want to have that happen again,” Murray said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win it again, but it won’t be how I judge myself and it’s just a part of what’s going to be a pretty big year for me.”

The Golf Australian national squad member is currently 105th in the world amateur rankings, but is desperate to get that inside the top 50 as soon as possible after a tumultuous 2015 campaign.

Interspersed between his Year 12 studies, Murray managed to play the most slashing golf of his young career in March and April as he prepared for Golf Victoria pennant finals and a British campaign including The Amateur Championship.

But a severe dislocation of his right index finger sustained while playing Aussie Rules for his school effectively ruined those plans and much of the rest of the year.

Now fully fit and with some promising efforts at the Australian Masters and Emirates Australian Open under his belt, Murray is hell bent on making up lost ground.

“I look at last year not as a waste because I learnt a lot, but definitely as a slow year because I didn’t really give myself much of a chance because I wasn’t fit,” he said.

“So whether it’s this week, or next week at the Aussie Am, or down the road a bit, I really want to play well and see where I can get … because I just didn’t get that chance last year, just when I was starting to go all right.

“I think staying off the footy field might be part of it,” he joked.

Murray shot a course-record 63 at Albury recently, reinforcing the form he had in April last year when he was regularly peeling off scores in the mid-60s around Melbourne’s Sandbelt courses.

And while he won’t commit himself to a repeat of those numbers this week as he seeks to become the first player to defend the championship, Murray will say that Royal Melbourne’s famous West Course “suits my eye”.

“It sets up well for me because I can hit a lot of 3-irons and 3-woods off the tee and not be out of position, so I love the course,” he said.

“If you play well around Royal you can really score, so hopefully I can do that again this week.

“All I really know is that my mind’s in a good place, I’m having fun on the golf course and … I can’t wait to get the (season) rolling.”

Murray will tee it up from Wednesday against 77 other world-class players again vying for not only individual honours, but also the tournament’s “World Cup” teams event with 16 nations on show.

Curtis Luck, at 53, is Australia’s top-ranked player, with fellow West Australian Min Woo Lee also inside the world’s top 100.

American Aaron Wise, who plays off a handicap of plus six, is the top-ranked players at No.8, while Grant Forrest (world No.22) leads a strong Scottish contingent.

Play begins at 8am on Wednesday on Royal Melbourne’s West Course with entry free.