Andrew Kirkman has claimed the 2023 NSW Country Championship with a three-shot win at a challenging South West Rocks Country Club.
The Kempsey Golf Club member was never really headed on Sunday despite some of the chasing pack making a late surge on the final day.
In a sign of how searching the conditions were for the 115-strong field, Kirkman was the only player to finish under par for the 36 holes.
The Vintage’s Josh Fuller finished runner-up after a closing 71 for a two-round total of 145, while Dubbo’s Lachie Jones took third place after a closing round two under 70, finishing at 146.
Local hope James Benson finished in 4th at plus three (147), while Toronot’s Jake Riley stormed home with a 69 to round out the top five at four-over 148.
The winner, however, was the man they had chased all weekend to no avail.
Starting the final day with a one-shot lead, Kirkman remained rock solid throughout the front nine. A birdie on the third saw his lead out to three, and when he rolled in another on the 6th, it was suddenly four.
Turning for home and for all intents now in cruise mode, Kirkman allowed the door to open ever so slightly with back-to-back bogeys on 11 and 12.
Meanwhile, finding form at the right time was Lachie Jones. The Dubbo ace got back into the contest with four birdies in five holes from the 6th to the 10th to cut Kirkman’s lead to one.
Fuller, playing alongside Kirkman, didn’t get his final round off to the best of starts and, with nine to go, found himself a distant six back, but with the wind-up and the tension growing, the Golf NSW HP squad member made a move with a pair of timely brides as the leader bogeyed to get back within two.
Sadly, that was as close as it was going to get, and when Jones dropped a shot on the long par-four 15th, he trailed by two.
Fuller also couldn’t make anything coming in, and when Kirkman converted back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th, the walk up the last became a relatively easy one for the soon-to-be-crowned two-time champ.
“it was pretty tough out there,” a delighted Kirkman said post-round. “They were pretty fast greens, as fast as you would get on tour.”
“I just kept the ball in play as best I could. The fairways, greens and a couple of putts were my goals for the week.
“I missed a few shots here and there, but all-in-all, it was pretty good.”
“I heard that Lachie Jones was three under in his round and only one back with probably four or five holes to go, but it didn’t worry me.
“Making birdie on 16 and 17 was not out entirely out of the blue. I hit a couple of good shots there, and it definitely helped.”
This year’s win is Kirkman’s second NSW Country Championship after claiming the title at Parkes in 2014.
The journey since his first title has been a ride; a dabble at the pro ranks for a year in 2015 on the PGA Tour of Australasia convinced him how tough life on tour was, financially and mentally.
“I got my Australasian tour card for 2015. I played a few pro-ams, and Monday Qualified for events throughout the year.
“I experienced what a stressful life pro golf is,” he added. “I didn’t make any money, and when I couldn’t afford to do it in 2016 or any further, I just gave up golf for six or seven years; I went and became a mechanic.”
Fast forward to 2020. Wiith the urge to play again biting badly, Kirkman got his amateur status back and rekindled his enjoyment of the game.
“My first event (back) was the (NSW Open) regional qualifier at Coffs Harbour. It poured down; I think we all nearly drowned.”
“But I was just really enjoying playing golf again. Growing up, it was a little hard to digest making bogey, but now I know I can react better and I don’t let things worry me anymore.”
With a more mature outlook towards the sport, this year has been a good one for Kirkman. He won the North Coast Open at Coffs Harbour last month and is looking forward to next year’s NSW Amateur at Belmont and Pacific Dunes.
“It’s only a few hours down the road from me, and they are both good courses so why not give it a go?”
“Will be good to challenge some of these younger guys, too,” he grinned.
*Newcastle DGA defended their Inter-District Teams crown, coming from a shot behind after the opening round to win by ten strokes with a 602 total from Illawarra.
Hunter River DGA finished in third place on 616.