November 27, 2022

Bennett’s WAAP chase runs out of steam

Kelsey Bennett

As the starter sent away the lead groups of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific on Sunday in Thailand there was a sense it was anyone’s tournament to win.

A bunched leaderboard saw four tied at the top on eight-under-par with seven players within four shots, including Kelsey Bennett three back.

It was local hope Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, one of the co-leaders, who embodied the regular local refrain of “Up to you” when she sent out a challenge off the first tee with a drive that carried the distance of a 10 baht taxi trip.

As the Thai was throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the field with birdie at the second and eagle at the par-4 3rd, Bennett’s charge to make up her three shot deficit to the overnight lead was going the wrong way up a one-way soi.

The St Michael’s member hit three poor approaches on the first three holes, mostly with wedges, to record three bogeys and drop to two-under for the tournament.

“Shocking,” Bennett honestly described her final round start. “Just couldn’t get any rhythm going.”

She remained resolute as grafted out pars at the next three holes then birdied the short par-3 7th from mid-range and exacted some revenge on the par-5 8th hole where her round three triple bogey stalled her challenge for the lead.

Hitting a drive that was dangerously close to the same spot from where she found trouble on Saturday, Bennett hit a perfect lay-up then wedge to setup a birdie.

The Mollymook product appeared determined to fight and at least give herself a chance on the back nine that as yet been anything but a field of birdies during the week.

A poor approach to the par-4 9th and worse bunker shot to 30 feet all rectified when she rolled in the par putt.

But it was another par-5 that would put an end to Bennett’s chance of securing Australia’s first win in the event and one place better result that her 2021 runner-up.

A drive in the left fairway bunker at the uphill 10th compounded by an interruption at the top of her backswing.

“Someone’s phone went off in the background, then plugged in the face of the next one, so not much I could do,” Bennett said.

The noise played a part in a pulled 6-iron and another bunker further up the 526 yard hole, Bennett’s third shot played with one knee on the ground and out of the hazard, a hard left shot the result. And you guessed it, more sand.

A lipped-out bogey try saw a seven marked on the card and eight greens in regulation over the course of her remaining journey back to the clubhouse led to more missed putts and an eventual four-over 76 and one-under tournament total. The John Serhan pupil finishing her week in a tie for 21st.

“I struck the ball pretty well all week, I was just a bit off from the tee today, not much I can do. If they drop they drop, if they don’t they don’t,” she summed up the final day.

Eventually some did respond to Vongtaveelap’s challenge, with Chinese Taipei’s Ting-Hsuan Huang pulling together six birdies to one bogey from the eighth hole to reach 11-under and claim the major championship starts and Augusta National Women’s Amateur spot from Vongtaveelap by two shots.

For Bennett, there were some positives to take away from Pattaya as she prepares to head for Ladies European Tour qualifying school in December and perhaps a farewell to the amateur game.

“Just that feeling of being uncomfortable and nothing really working and working on how to improve that. Just to make sure I stay in the zone, it could have been a lot worse than it was. Again I had no putts drop, so if a few of them are dropping it is really not that bad.”