Young Australian Nick Cullen is having to rethink his goals for 2012 after securing the first victory of his professional career in the Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open.
The 27-year-old left-hander pocketed a whopping U.S. $172,000 from the $1 million purse that made up OneAsia’s season opener, giving himself a healthy platform to relaunch a career that was interrupted by back problems in 2011.
Given the tournament was co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour Organisation, the weekend win also opens doors in the land of the rising sun, and Cullen is guaranteed at least two starts there — including the lucrative Japan PGA Championship.
It also gives him entry to next month’s second OneAsia event, the Volvo China Open, which is co-sanctioned by the European Tour.
Cullen has also made it to July’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham St Annes after finishing third at international final qualifying (IFQ) in January, meaning he has gone from Pro-Ams in Adelaide to the world’s oldest Major in a matter of months.
“If you had offered me this at the beginning of the season I would have had a good year,” said a delighted Cullen after his nail-biting victory on Sunday.
“Yeah, I am definitely going to have to set myself some new goals now.”
It was the cool manner of Cullen’s closing that marked him out as a star of the future.
Leading by four with five to play, Cullen suffered a devastating triple bogey and the tournament was suddenly a three-horse race as playing partner David Oh (USA) and Japan’s Yoshikazu Haku birdied the 15th to put them all at eight under.
It was the sort of blow that could mess with a player’s mind for years, but Cullen dug deep and on the 17th drained what he called “probably the best putt I’ve holed in my life” to regain a one shot advantage. Another clutch up and down on the last saw him prevail.
The young champion was full of praise for an Emeralda Golf Club course that was set up to the toughest championship conditions. Narrow fairways, punitive rough and slick greens meant only 25 players were below par for the tournament.
Cullen had to put the champagne on ice as he flew out of Jakarta later that night to take part in this week’s New Zealand PGA Pro-Am Championship in Queenstown, but he found time during a stopover in Sydney to read and respond to every one of page-after-page of messages of support and congratulations on his Facebook page.
“This means the world to me,” Cullen wrote to his family, friends and fans.
“I thought Leigh meant the world to you,” a friend quipped back, referring to his girlfriend.
The win takes Cullen from 648 on the world rankings to 334 — still a long way to go, but many professional golfers can spend an entire career seeking their first tournament victory.
“This is going to change a lot,” said Cullen. “It will change my schedule quite a bit.”
First of all he is going to have to get used to a life on the road in countries and regions he is not familiar with.
“This was only my second time in Asia so I am still getting used to it,” said Cullen.
“I wasn’t sure at the start of the week how to go about it. Food for example; what to eat? Everything is very different to back home.
“I ate a lot of bananas this week … I probably ate five or six bananas each round.”
Cullen was also pleased with the status of the event, noting that the co-sanctioning by OneAsia and the Japan Tour lifted the tournament to a different level.
“It adds another element to it,” he said. “This means to win the event is so much more special. To beat all these top players from Japan … it is a great feeling.”
The Indonesia Open is one of 14 tournaments on a busy OneAsia calendar worth more than $16 million this year.
The circuit, founded by the China Golf Association, the Korea Golf Tour, the Korea Golf Association and the PGA of Australia, aims to provide the top players in Asia-Pacific and beyond a stage to showcase their talent and ultimately offer a viable regional alternative to the U.S. PGA and European Tours.
OneAsia’s suite of tournaments includes the national Opens of Australia, China, Indonesia, Korea and Thailand, as well as numerous other prestigious events.