Date: November 25, 2014
Author: Martin Blake @ The Australian

Open dreaming for Shellharbour golfer

Rory McIlroy was followed every step of the way around The Australian today by an adoring crowd of fans. Out on the short-game practice area a couple of fairways away, Danny Nesbitt hit chips and bunker shots unimpeded.

It is the light and shade of the Emirates Australian Open.

Nesbitt, an amateur from Shellharbour, south of Wollongong, plays once-a-week golf on a Saturday morning with his mates at The Links Shell Cove, scoffing a few beers along the way.

In between, he helps a friend out working in the pro shop.

But Nesbitt popped himself in the pre-qualifying event at Carnarvon Golf Club in Sydney's west on Monday, shot 67, and found himself in the field for the Open.

He is still struggling to come to grips with it.

"It's pretty nerve-racking to be here, to be honest. It was surreal driving in here this morning,'' he told

Nesbitt has only been to The Australian once, and that was as a 12-year-old to watch the old Greg Norman International tournament. His only previous visit to an Australian Open was to work as a volunteer leaderboard carrier at the 1999 Open, when Aaron Baddeley won at Royal Sydney.

He is a seriously talented player who came through the Jack Newton junior foundation in Newcastle that has spawned the likes of James Nitties and Nick Flanagan, completed part of a traineeship to become a professional, but bailed out.

"I did two-and-a-half years but then I gave it away,'' he said. "I quit playing for a year or so. I'd had enough of the game, I needed a break away from it.''

Nesbitt used the time off to live a normal life. "I did a bit of everything, a bit of bar work, I drove a taxi for a little while, I moved to Newcastle for a while then back to Shell Harbour. My good mate's the manager down there and he needed a hand in the shop. I'm just about to finish up there in January.

"I'm playing more often. I still only play once a week, on Saturday mornings with the boys. We have a few drinks on the way around. I just decided to have a go at pre-qualifying and here I am. I kind of knew I could do it, but I wasn't really expecting it.''

He could barely contain his nerves as he drove into The Australian, one of the country's grandest golfing establishments, this morning. "They just told me to drive up to the gate and tell them, 'You're playing','' he said. "The guy on the gate looked at me, and I said, 'I'm playing' and through I went. It's going to be a fun week.''

His parents, Andrew and Christine, are on their way to watch.

As for Nesbitt, he's recalling his only previous win of note, a Jack Newton event in 2002. "I think it was in front of about 30 people. I think this will be a little bit different,'' he laughed.

"Try not to miss it off the first tee … that's the goal.''