Almanac Golf: The Masters’ Apprentice

Australians supposedly barrack for the underdog, the battler, the feel good story, particularly when it comes to sport. The Masters has served up a player who ticks off all the boxes. Matt Millar leads the tournament going into the final round. I’ve known Matt since he was 14 or so, playing with him on Saturday mornings with a group of blokes who were probably not the best role models that any aspiring young golfer should emulate.

When Matt turned pro in 1999, the members at the Belconnen Golf Club raised some cash to get him going. There had been plenty of juniors who had given it a go in the past however Matt was a young bloke who was a little different. Quiet and respectful and short of the ego that sometimes accompanies talented young sports people.

Matt’s first main tour event was the Vic Open where he pulled his own bag on the way to a seven under first round lead. Journos were ringing the club asking who the kid was, what was his background, what has he won previously. Other than winning the club pro am earlier that year and plenty of club comps, there was not much to report. Matt missed the cut after understandably being overwhelmed by the new found attention of the media and fly by night back slappers. He practised and persevered eventually getting on to the European Tour eking out a living, occasionally coming back to Canberra to tee it up in the Wednesday comp. Matt qualified and made the cut in the 2011 British Open. The signed flag from the 18th hole hangs proudly in the clubhouse. Despite achieving what most only dream about, Matt remained the same level-headed person who wore out the practice green as a teenager.

Matt lost his card and came back to Australia playing the local tour. It’s an expensive and less than glamorous undertaking travelling from pro-am to pro-am with the odd sprinkling of state championships and the brief window of national events, if your lucky enough to get a start. Matt has always been a solid player with a habit of chucking in one bad round. Not any more it would seem. Matt has been coaching at a local club the past year and half while continuing to play the Australasian tour. Having had to go back to qualifying school at the start of the year seems to have flicked a switch in Matt’s approach to the game. He won his first four rounder at the NZ PGA and has finished in the top ten of eight tour events this year, including three runner ups, which is sensational by anyone’s standard. Playing along side him is another young bloke who had to pre-qualify last Monday and someone who Matt has been teaching in recent times. This is the stuff that the media laps up isn’t it? Having the bum out of your pants to playing in the last group at Australia’s biggest golfing event.

Apparently not.

Channel Seven’s sport coverage is appalling at best but it saves up it’s worst for golf coverage. They do a few things prior to getting on the green. How about showing them? Yes Greg Norman was legend and Baker-Finch et al were terrific in their day. But why Seven feel the need to constantly remind us? If the tour is to grow is must be through the present, not the past.

However, that not my main gripe. In a sport that participants rely on any scrap of exposure to gain sponsorship how hard is it to show a player that is actually leading the event and not focus on one player who is playing like a busted arse. If you watch golf, you will watch paint dry, so I don’t cop the ratings excuse. Surely watching a player who shot the equal lowest round of the day to lead the event is better TV than watching the train wreck which was Adam Scot’s round and his equally dismal playing partner. I can watch Adam Scott tee it up every week. However, I don’t often get to see a former junior in probably the biggest moment of his career.

And it’s just not the commercial guys. This morning’s Offsiders was equally partial. Not one mention of Matt or the other young blokes trying to make a decent cheque and hopefully some additional support from potential sponsors. Nope just Adam Scott’s shit round and Tracey Holmes prattling on about how fuzzy it would be for Peter Senior to win. Peter Senior seems like a nice person who actually let Matt use his house in England as a base. Peter is also a multi millionaire who doesn’t need a further leg up. Adam Scott also seems like a thoroughly decent chap. However, Adam won’t be shacking up on some mate’s couch so he can afford to play this weekend.

Anyway, the usual suspects assembled this afternoon at the Belconnen Golf Club to hopefully watch a watershed moment in Matt’s golf career. That’s the thing about golf clubs. They are a community that gets as much enjoyment out of a past member’s success as they do their own, riding the bumps missed putts along the way. The coverage was no better. Watching Adam scratch around is the scrub on his way to yet another double bogey was hardly riveting and predictably, it was saturated with Senior moments although this was justified given how ell he was playingl. And more reminiscing.

Matt’s putter had cooled after holing everything on Saturday. As every golfer knows, there is a demon/god who only allows a good day with the putter when the rest of your game is crap. He dropped his first shot on the 8th, after a three putt par on 7, before getting it back on 9. Andrew Evans had picked up plenty of tips from Matt’s third round and if he was nervous it wasn’t showing. Peter Senior hit the lead on 10 with cracking shot for a kick in birdie. The back nine on Sunday. It’s a cliché I know but this when the thing between your ears is more important that the thing in your hands. No other sport give you so much time to think about what if and what could be. For a game that takes 5 hours to play, you spend bugger all time actually playing it.

Matt makes nice saves on 10 and 11 but needs a birdie before the tough closing stretch. Evans drops another shot and is starting to look shaky off the tee but is still hanging in for what will be his biggest pay day. Senior by one from the boy from Belco. As it usually is, this will be decided by the flat stick and Matt Guyatt has his working to get within two along with American amateur champion, Bryson DeChambeau who is showing the pros how it’s done even if he is only playing for a plate rather than his dinner to eat off it. Collective groans as Senior birdies 13 and Matt three putts 12. Three shots is looking tough the catch as Senior has his game face on. I wonder if he is thinking about next year when the broom stick goes in the cupboard and wants to top up the sizable pension he has been accumulating on the old farts tour. Looks like Matt is playing for second along with three others on 6 under. Seven continues to show Adam Scott’s highlights or lack there of.

Three to play, Senior blocks it into the scrub but has a swing to bump it out sideways. Matt is struggling and drops another shot, and a big chunk of potential cash, as Evans birdies 15 for outright second. Go young fella. If Matt can’t have the fairy tale then we want you to. Evans hits it to six foot on 16. Senior drops a shot as Evans birdies. All square with two to go. Evans makes bogey at 17, as does Matt, Senior make an 8 footer for par on the last. Needing a birdie, Evans has a six metre putt which comes up short. He three putts costing him second place but by no means the respect of those watching. Matt also bogeys the last leaving him at 3 under. Certainly not the finish he or we had hoped for but it will make Christmas with the kids a bit sweeter even if it doesn’t feel that way now.

Peter Senior wins in what will be a great news story. Good on him but is it good for Australian golf? I don’t think so. Andrew Evans will drive to Sydney tonight to try and qualify for next week’s Australian Open. Hopefully he might have a new sponsor’s logo on his shirt after his fantastic result this week. Matt will be there as well and hopefully in contention as he has been so often this year. We will be at the club hoping he succeeds. Win, draw or lose, it’s been a great ride for those who have seen a kid turn into a man and achieve what so many of us have not.

About Tony Robb

A life long Blues supporter of 49 years who has seen some light at the end of the tunnel that isn't Mick Malthouse driving a train.

Comments

  1. Guilty as charged your honour. I did try to make the point that these would always be festival days for the community of Australian golf, and in that sense were not reliant on big names, and that many emerging players got their start there. The question for Australian golf is how to make the tournaments attractive to the best golfers.

    But, yes, we got caught up in Scott and Senior.

  2. Good write up TR. Like Test Cricket – I used to spend hours watching the November Australian tournaments – but I wasted my 5 hours of “me time” challenging for the world’s worst putter title at Royal Maylands on Saturday. Competing priorities. I saw nothing of the Ch7 coverage (thankfully from your description).
    Peter Senior at 56 is a great story, but it says something about the standard of his competition. He challenges Jim Furyk for the ugliest swing in professional golf. It gives me hope.
    Golf is like soccer, and these few tournaments are our A League. We need to look overseas to see Australia’s best. Economies of scale.

  3. Peter Flynn says

    Will only watch if Jeff Woodland and Peter McWhinney et al are back in action.

    I miss the Rodger Davis 1988 wave and head nod.

    How many beers has Bob Stanton consumed?

  4. Good work Tony. I agree, it seems almost embarrassing that a 56 year old wins our Masters. Was definitely barracking for one of the ‘new’ guys. Possibly a ‘marketing’ problem that we don’t know much about up and comers.

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