HAYES: Contrasting Contests Bring Storyline Gold

Mark Hayes
February 2, 2024

If good sport stories are like gold dust, tomorrow’s New South Wales Amateur finals might well be the Welcome Stranger.

The men’s shootout pits Sydney’s brightest emerging talent Declan O’Donovan against the bush’s reinvigorated battler, Andrew Kirkman; the dreams of a future against the realities of the past; the technique against the know-how.

The combined age of the women’s combatants is 31 – remarkably six years shy of Kirkman alone – yet both are extraordinarily well credentialed.

Rachel Lee, at 16, has already won a professional tournament this summer, then backed up to lead the Australian Women’s Open first round against her heroes.

Godiva Kim, extraordinarily, will feature in her second consecutive NSW Am final at the ripe old age of 15.

In the “grand old days” when newspapers routinely covered such historic events, either of these contests would be worthy of a feature piece.

They’re rich in storylines and, regardless of their respective outcomes, both finals will produce tales that will sit deservedly among what is now the most coveted individual match play title in Australia.

O’Donovan didn’t take up golf until age 15. Now, at 20, he’s tracking quickly towards greater honours.

This path will take him from Belmont tomorrow, back to home base at Avondale on Sunday for pennants and then on to Castle Hill next week for his debut on the PGA Tour of Australasia.

O’Donovan is desperate to become a touring professional and not just domestically – he has his eyes on one day pulling on the green jacket of a Masters champion.

His opponent may well be in the diametrically opposite camp.

Kirkman was once a PGA pro, but found life on the road a financial millstone and beat a hasty retreat back to the life he knew best as a mechanic on the Mid North Coast.

The loss of his father, Chris, last year prompted Kirkman to pick up the sticks competitively again and he’s now intent on living life to the full.

For O’Donovan this might be a key stepping stone; for Kirkman a celebration and a ticket to revel in life with his family and mates, one of whom – another Chris – is a Belmont local who shares a love of drift racing.

Excuse the pun, but you get the drift.

It’s two completely different men at polar opposite stages of their lives.

But they’re drawn together tomorrow by the chance to get their hands on a cup they both covet, yet neither would have dared consider holding just seven or eight year ago.

The women, conversely, have a series of similarities.

Both with Korean lineage, it might not be a surprise that each admires former world No.1 Jiyai Shin as her professional idol.

Both, as growing teens, are combining the search for extra – yet controlled – distance with the necessities of short-game practice.

Both have rubbed shoulders with LPGA Tour professionals and yearn to be among them permanently before age 20.

The list goes on.

It’s a genuine pity that the tales won’t reach as far as they once might have.

Here, in the home of the legendary Lake Macquarie Amateur and one of Australia’s most storied amateurs in Phil Billings, this venerated prize deserves better.

But rest assured, the feats and tales that will unfold tomorrow will be well worthy of the trailblazers who went before them.

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