Date: November 15, 2013
Author: Martin Blake / Royal Melbourne Golf Club

Youth to fore at Masters

Adam Scott represents the current face of Australian golf, but there is a wave of young professionals trying to wrestle him aside. At the Talister Masters today, they soared to the top of the leaderboard, with rookie professional Nathan Holman grabbing the clubhouse lead. The top three — Holman, Matthew Griffin and Thursday&aposs outright leader Nick Cullen — all either have been through or are still going through the rookie program put together several years ago by Golf Australia. Victorian Holman, 22, is unfettered by nerves or any feeling that he does not belong. The young man from Woodlands Golf Club played an extraordinary round, taking a a double bogey seven at the second hole after hitting his drive into trouble and taking a penalty drop, holing out for eagle from a bunker at the par-four sixth, and rattling home with consecutive birdies for a 65 to lead by a shot at nine-under par. “I started well, and I finished really well,&apos&apos he said. “It feels comfortable to be here. I&aposve played a lot of golf here. It suits the eye. A course like this, you need to know how to play.&apos&apos Holman turned pro a few months ago and has already bobbed up in some events, finishing 14th in the Australian PGA Championship last week. He was runner-up in the Victorian Open last year and likes the feel of the big events. “I probably play better on tougher golf courses,&apos&apos he said. Confident to a tee, he said he had no fear of playing with Scott over the weekend. “I hope I get to play with him.&apos&apos Thirty-year-old Griffin also shot 65 and could have gone lower; his three-metre putt for birdie at his last hole, the 10th on the course, slid under the hole. Like Holman, he knows Royal Melbourne backwards. As a teenager he worked on the driving range for four years, picking up balls and selling merchandise in the shop. He also grew up just around the corner. Griffin is having his best year so far, having a win in Asia, where he intends heading back to play in 2014. He enjoyed playing in the same group as Cullen (69), having played with him many times on the OneAsia Tour. “We usually play well when we&aposre together. I guess when you&aposre out there, you pull each other along.&apos&apos Left-handed Cullen, from Adelaide, backed up Thursday&aposs 65 quite nicely, and also welcomed the idea that he might end up going head-to-head with Scott. “It&aposs great,&apos&apos he said. “I love it. It means you&aposre playing well.&apos&apos The leaderboard was a wonderful advertisement for GA&aposs rookie program, which provides funding for professionals in their early stages. The program runs for five years. Holman has just entered the program while Cullen has had two years and Griffin had five. “The funding&aposs there to help them do what they did when they were amateurs,&apos&apos said GA&aposs high performance manager Brad James. “They&aposre well funded when they are amateurs but it&aposs not just funding, it&aposs support. It&aposs coaching, physios, training, things that they wouldn&apost be able to afford. We&aposre trying to make the transition easier than it has been in the past. I think the mentality for a lot of the amateur bodies used to be &aposonce you&aposre a pro, our hands are off&apos. Whereas now it&aposs part of our pathway.&apos&apos Griffin acknowledged the benefits. “When you start out, you put a lot of work into your golf game but you&aposre starting with not a lot of money in the bank,&apos&apos he said. “That gives you the opportunity to travel, go to tour schools and I found the biggest advantage of it was building a really good team. You can have a full-time coach, psychologist, that sort of thing. With a lot of young guys coming through it&aposs showing how good the program is.&apos&apos Cullen who is in the last year on the program, agrees. “I&aposve got my coach now and that&aposs all covered, I&aposve got two physios, sports psychologist, biomechanics, a really good team. They all talk to each other and it helps you get started and getting everything moving in the right direction. If you don&apost have that support, it&aposs really hard to justify spending the money if you&aposre struggling or you haven&apost got a lot. It&aposs a massive help.&apos&apos