Date: March 10, 2019
Author: Martin Blake

Riversdale crowns two new champions

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Japan’s Yuna Nishimura and Sunshine Coast sensation Chris Crabtree have etched their names alongside the legends to have won the Riversdale Cup.

Nishimura, 18, blew the women’s field away with a stunning, final-round 69 that put her three shots ahead of the field at 10-under par, preparing the way for her to turn professional later this year and yet again emphasising the strength of the young golfers coming out of Japan.

Crabtree, 23, is a two-time club champion from Greg Norman’s Pelican Waters on the Sunshine Coast but had never experienced such heady moments as the par-four 18th at Riversdale, when he was left with a two-metre, right-to-left breaking putt to win one of Australia’s most prestigious amateur events.

The English-born Queenslander buried it in the back of the cup for birdie to deny two young men from Metropolitan Golf Club playing in the same group – Blake Collyer and Aiden Didone. Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship-holder Collyer went down the 18th tied for the lead but could only make par after his drive went long and left of the green and into deep rough.

But had Crabtree missed, there would have been a three-way playoff. As it was, an eagle from close range at the par-five sixth ignited his round and he finished with a five-under par 67, equalling the low round of the day and including four consecutive birdies between the eighth and the 11th holes that vaulted him into the lead.

Crabtree, coached by Cameron Smith’s mentor Grant Field and working out of the Queensland Academy of Sport, said he hoped the victory would get him starts overseas this year because of a better world amateur ranking.

A late-comer to the sport, having played soccer until the age of 14. Recently he was in the top 25 in the Queensland PGA championship, a result that foretold today’s events. “I feel like this performance has been coming,” he said later. “It was just a matter of when.”

It was the first time he’d played in the final group in a tournament. Standing over the final putt, he convinced himself his time was now. “I just said to myself ‘you’ve holed a million of these in your life. Keep your head down and hear the ball go in’.’’

Nishimura won a national sports festival event in Japan two years ago but this was her biggest victory. She was also runner-up in the inaugural women’s Asia Pacific Championship championship last year, and intends playing that event again in 2019 with its lure of a spot in the inaugural Augusta National women’s tournament.

She took the field apart with consecutive birdies at the 11th, 12th then a bomb from long range at the 13th and then a peerless nine iron shot to less than half a metre at the par-three 14th hole for a tap-in birdie. Her weekend rounds of 68-69 streeted the field, not that she had it all her way. A double bogey at the par-five seventh almost derailed her after she drove into a fairway trap and sent her third shot over the back of the raised green.

She was by some margin the best player in the field, already ranked 73rd before this week although she was not in the Japanese team for the Queen Sirikit Cup in Adelaide. She wore her own pink and white rather than the red and white team uniform of Japan because she has graduated from the Japanese Golf Association program into a rookie squad.

“I’m really happy,” she said. “It was a good weekend.’’