There were some very experienced older eyes watching on as Royal Melbourne’s Matias Sanchez and Perth’s Min Woo Lee battled for the prestigious Australian Amateur Championship over 36 holes of matchplay on Sunday. Chris Vogt reports.
A CRISP, still morning brought the promise of a perfect day for the final of the Australian Amateur. Yarra Yarra Golf Club lay in wait for a couple of teenagers searching for a significant place in this country’s sporting history. 36 holes in one day is quite the examination of physical and mental strength, both attributes usually still in development in eighteen year-olds.
But Matias Sanchez and Min Woo Lee have maturity which belies their tender age. Into the cauldron of a major final they went, and turned on a gripping match which ebbed and flowed, had momentum shifts, play from the top shelf, and the odd brain-fade which reminded all of the pressures thrust upon these youngsters.
The first 18 saw Sanchez skip out to an early lead, building to be 4 up before a late rally from Lee. Golf of a high standard was enjoyed by a small gallery as the sun neared the top of its arc. Sanchez played the 18th in regulation for a win and sat 2 clear at lunch.
Barely a riffle of a breeze toyed with the flags as the afternoon wore on, never testing the players. The bluest of days had warmed to the edge of discomfort for older members of the growing gallery, which remained focused, knowledgeable and respectful throughout. Former champions Kevin Hartley and Mike Clayton settled into a cart for a few holes. Bob Shearer took it in, too.
Lee needed a strong start to the second 18. A first-hole birdie did that, but Sanchez restored the gap soon after, and stretched it with a superb sand escape. He soon stood 4 up and looked set to settle into a battle of attrition. To that point nothing spectacular had happened. But no disasters either. Just a gradual tightening of the screws. Then Lee eagled the 5th and stayed in touch, 2 down at the turn.
Lee chose Yarra Yarra’s famed 11th to square the match, all the momentum now with him. At 14 he stamped his authority by recovering from a wayward drive when Sanchez sat comfortably on the short grass. At hole’s end Lee was in front for the first time.
A lucky break at the next as Lee’s tee shot stopped inches from sand, which Sanchez found. 2 up, Lee steady now, Sanchez struggling. But the battle renewed with a Sanchez birdie at the next from off the green. Then Lee went from trouble to trouble down 17 to send the match its full distance.
Two errant drives, poor approach shots from both players. Sanchez, somehow reinvigorated, found a way to par, which was enough.
Following the presentation, Matias Sanchez sat with his trophy, sharing the moment with decorated amateur Kevin Hartley. Words were exchanged, which they kept to themselves. The young man knew what he’d done out there and where it placed him. It took a veteran to drive it home.
*Kevin Hartley is one of Australia’s finest amateur golfers and has been described as “arguably Australia’s best ever amateur golfer” after a career that includes winning both the Victorian and Australian amateur championships, representing his country in four Eisenhower Cups and winning the Ivo Whitton Trophy for scoring averages an unprecedented 13 times. Known as ‘The Dart’ for his accuracy on the course, he came to prominence in 1950 when he won Victorian Boys Championship at Medway (Victoria), his home course. He played with the greats of his era including Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.