Cameron Davis lived the dream for four and a half hours at The Australian GC, and he is now an Emirates Australian Open champion.
Davis, the 22-year-old Sydneysider who has had a difficult first year as a professional, bolted around the layout in just 64 – the lowest round of the day by three shots – to post 11 under, closing with a birdie from 3.5m at the 18th hole.
He then waited on the practice range as a string of players behind him tried to match his score. Another New South Welshman, Matt Jones, had a long eagle putt at the last to force a playoff, but burned the hole and was left a shot away.
But the closest was Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who hit his third shot at the par-five 18th to the fringe of the green, just 4.5m beyond the cup with a chance to force a playoff.
But with a full amphitheatre of fans on the bank under the clubhouse, Blixt left his birdie roll a few centimetres short, and had to settle for a share of second with Jones. All three players earn berths at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie via the Open Qualifying Series.
Cameron Smith, who finished at nine under, also had threatened to win midway through his final round before faltering and finishing fourth, just ahead of fellow Queenslander Jason Day, who played a faltering final round of 73, two-over par, that will sting him for a while.
Davis, a product of the Roseville and Monash golf clubs in Sydney’s north, emerged from the Golf NSW elite amateur programs and became the youngest Australian Open winner since Aaron Baddeley in 2000 at 19 years old.
He won an Australian Amateur Championship in 2015, earned a piece of internet fame for his ability to play both left and right-handed shots with no discernible deterioration in his swings, and was low individual and part of a winning Australian team at the 2016 Eisenhower Cup, the World Amateur Team Championship.
He had led the Open after shooting a 63 on Thursday, but by the time he added 72 and 74 on Friday and Saturday, he was seven under and three shots back from no less a figure than Day at 10 under. What this did was to allow him to play unfettered golf, free of pressure in the sixth-to-last group.
Davis birdied three of the first four holes to set it up. Another birdie at the par-four 10th put him in the mix and then the thunderclap of a hole-out eagle with a wedge from the fairway at the 12th to take a share of the lead at 10 under.
Coming to the par-five 18th hole, he had the outright lead although knew there was plenty of golf to go. Utterly nerveless and oblivious to the leaderboards, he wedged in close with his third shot and rolled in the birdie, signing for 64, a round for the ages in high winds.
None of them could catch him and one by one they fell. Davis was on the driving range blasting drives when Day’s improbable three-wood shot at the 18th plopped in the front trap when it needed to go in for an albatross to tie. He was embraced by colleagues including caddie and former touring pro Andrew Tschudin, and he barely took the beaming smile off his face for the next few hours knowing that his name will join Nicklaus, Player, Palmer and company on the Stonehaven Cup and that he is $225,000 richer after his first pro victory.
“It’s a little bit numb at the moment,” he said. “I just didn’t expect to be in this situation. Even though I had a great round, I just didn’t think I was going to be far enough up the leaderboard. But to finish my round and see where everyone was at, I was kind of surprised. I’m just relieved right now. That’s all I can say.”
Davis received a rapturous welcome to the green at 18 but still refused to look at the implications, focussing on what he was doing. “I didn’t even see a leaderboard before I hit that putt on the last hole. So I made that, and I thought, ‘I’ll be up around the top’. But to come into the scorers’ hut and see where I was at, I was kind of blown away. I had no idea I’d be there.”
It came from the blue. Davis lost his card to play on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada this year and before today, had never logged a top 10 as a professional. Last week he missed the cut in the New South Wales Open, but he felt that some good golf was coming.
He remembers watching Australian Opens through his boyhood, even played a couple where he missed the cut. “You never think you’re going to be there. You want to be there, but you’ve got no idea what the road’s going to be like to get there.”
World No.2 Jordan Spieth closed with an eagle at his 72nd hole to finish eighth in his title defence. The low amateur was Victorian Matias Sanchez, who finished tied 15th.
Aside from his Open berth, Davis may find himself with a few invitations to play around the world. Later this week he will head to the final stage of the Web.Com Tour school in the United States. Suddenly, Australian golf has another great young player to watch.
FINAL SCORES (Top finishers)
-11 Cameron Davis (NSW)
-10 Matt Jones (NSW), Jonas Blixt (SWE)
-9 Cameron Smith (QLD)
-8 Jason Day (QLD)
-7 Mark Brown (NZ), Lucas Herbert (VIC)
-6 Jordan Spieth (USA)
(Story/photo courtesy of Golf Australia)