Date: November 22, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

THE YOUNGSTER: 16-year-old has big ambition

Karl Vilips is the youngest player in the Emirates Australian Open field at the tender age of 16.

But he says he is not just turning up to play at The Australian this week. He wants to finish top-10, and he has his eye on the three places in the Open Championship that are on offer to the highest three finishes who have not already qualified for Carnoustie in 2018.

Vilips, a teenage phenomenon who grew up in Melbourne, achieved a modicum of fame for his feats as a junior before taking a scholarship to high school in Florida, is playing his first Australian Open on an invitation from Lagardere, the event promoter.

He found out a week ago that he was in the field and he quickly jumped a plane from Florida to be in Sydney. It is his first-ever experience of his national Open; he has never even been to the tournament as a spectator before, nor played a tournament at The Australian Golf Club.

The experience is invaluable for one so young. On Monday, for instance, he practised with Jason Day, the former world No. 1 who has been his inspiration. “He crushes the ball,’’ said Vilips. “It was good to watch. I played behind Jordan and there were a lot of people watching him. I was just in the dust!’’

The teenager is also working closely with his coach, Australian Cameron McCormick, who also happens to be Spieth’s instructor.

Vilips represented the International team at the Junior Presidents Cup in America recently and has been making strides in high school golf, as well as committing to Stanford University in California, the alma mater of Tiger Woods. He is in his off-season, having not played a tournament since October, but he has worked hard in the past week to bring his game back.

“I talked to my coach Cameron, and we said that if I played good like I can, we could aim for top 10 definitely,’’ he said. “My goal for this week would be to get one of those Open qualifying spots. Top 10 I’m trying to get. This course is about hitting it straight off the tee, because the bunkers are tough. You have to hit fairways and try not to short-side yourself, and if you’re in the collection areas it’s a tough up and down.’’

Vilips is one of 18 elite amateurs in the field, and will start his Open campaign at 7.40am on Thursday, playing alongside Queensland professional Cory Crawford and Victorian Deyen Lawson.

“I feel good,’’ he said. “I’ve been working hard for the last week. Cameron said I’m making good progress with my game.  I‘m not coming in as the youngest player saying ‘I just want to make the cut’. Just being an amateur, there’s a difference in skill level, and I feel like my skill level is good enough to finish top 10 in this tournament.’’

Nothing like a bit of teenaged fearlessness.