HAYES: Match play magic is what it’s about

Mark Hayes
February 3, 2024

For all the magic of golf, it’s often lost on those not already converts to its charms and nuances.

If you are lucky enough to lay your paws on the New South Wales Amateur trophies, names such as Webb, Ferrier, Hetherington, Newton, Kennedy and Devlin stand out amid myriad legends.

Only time will tell if Declan O’Donovan or Godiva Kim will one day sit alongside those legends.

But as of this afternoon at Belmont Golf Club, they are worthy additions to trophies that date back to either side of the turn of the 20th century.

The trophies – while already significant – have become even more precious in recent years after the Australian Amateur’s decision to abandon its traditions in favour of a garden variety and mundane four-round stroke play event.

And as good as the emerging talent in Australia might be, the challenge for those who promote the game is showcasing them to a new audience.

And having been in that position for years, I can vouch that the answer is not stroke play.

The solution, in my humble opinion, is as old as the hills around St Andrews.

And it’s as glaringly obvious – and sadly as rare – as common sense in Australian politics.

Hold on to your hats – it’s match play.

O’Donovan and Kim are just the latest examples to help prosecute my case – and the historic NSW Am match play finals a compelling vehicle.

Their contests – against Andrew Kirkman and Rachel Lee respectively – weren’t always pulsating.

But for large parts of their 36-hole finals, the contests were spellbinding.

Kirkman had trailed by as many as six holes, even as late as the 27th tee.

But had he not missed a couple of clear-cut chances on the 29th and 30th holes, Kirkman could very conceivably have pushed his younger rival all the way.

As it was, it took back-to-back birdies from O’Donovan on the 32nd and 33rdholes to seal a deserving victory – typical of the quality of golf this rising star delivered under the pump all week.

Remarkably, Kim hadn’t led her final until the 30th hole and played from the 29th to 34th holes in four under to close out an epic contest with a string of extraordinary chips and putts.

Both matches ebbed and flowed. Both were played in great spirits. Chances came and went for all four players.

From a spectator standpoint, it’s easy to follow.

From a TV standpoint, it’s easy to cover.

From a storyline standpoint, it’s easy to research and explain.

From a player standpoint, it’s engaging and doesn’t throttle your chances with one horrendous shot.

From a logistics standpoint, host clubs can – as they did at Belmont today – continue member play around the big show.

From a pure golf perspective, outside the major championships, all the world’s premier events are match play, topped by the untouchable Ryder Cup.

In short, it’s fun.

Fun is sellable to a wider audience.

Golf needs these new eyes.

It’s stunning to me that more events don’t employ it.

And before I’m done, please allow me one more point …

O’Donovan’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) will rise, presumably towards around 500, when they’re updated later this week.

As ever, he’s one of a handful of promising amateurs emerging over an action-packed Australian summer.

But as of now, his WAGR is 754, a laughably high number that was a high as approximately 1250 before January’s Aussie Am.

Critics of that assessment will point to the fact that he’s only recently turned to winning ways, with his home Avondale Cup and NSW Medal also coming in a hot start to 2024.

I would argue that given the depth of Aussie amateur talent, the weighting of our domestic events is grossly “unders” when WAGR calculations are made.

I’ll go “he” if you can find 500 better amateur players in the world this week.

O’Donovan has been playing golf for little more than five years and now he’s learnt to find the finish line, the world is his oyster.

Let’s hope the “world” will see fit to offer him some appropriate rankings points – which extrapolate to invitations – so he can prove this on a grander stage.

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