It was more than just players coming together to talk about a magic moment in their careers – it was a gathering of nine of the Championship’s finest winners in recent times.
Assembled to recognise the 90th anniversary of the Championship and mark the start of the Golf Challenge NSW Open, the nine champions past and present, and all in this week’s tournament – spent more than a few moments admiring the names and waxing lyrical about their moment of glory.
For some, lifting the Kel Nagle Cup was a defining moment in their careers while for others, it was a victory amongst many as they scaled dizzying heights in the sport.
For all, the NSW Open win is still something special.
Jason Norris, Champion in 2007, said the win while not his biggest, was, in his eyes, his most important.
“I might have won bigger purses, but some of the names on the trophy, the people that have played it, the prestige… to know your name is alongside theirs is pretty awesome.”
Ben Eccles and Rick Kulacz, both amateurs when they lifted the Kel Nagle Cup said victory at the time was easily their biggest, but since then it they had learnt to really appreciate what winning really meant.
“It started my career,” Eccles said. “I wasn’t thinking of turning pro for at least 12 more months. I won and turned pro the next day, so it kick started me off.”
“At the time I didn’t know what it meant, but now, it’s significance is huge.”
“I look at my name on the trophy, and it still feels like someone else did it.”
For Kulacz, the win parlayed into a start in the following week’s Australian Open, playing alongside none other than Greg Norman.
“Back at the time I was just trying to contend in the pro events I played; to knock one off, well, I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
“Looking back at it now, even though I stayed amateur another year, it gave me the confidence that I could compete at this level.”
For Peter Lonard and O’Malley, the NSW Open win was significant for differing reasons.
Lonard, who took the crown in 2004 at Liverpool, was an acknowledged star of Australian sport. Picked in the 2003 Presidents Cup, he was a clear fan favourite on the PGA Tour and well inside the world’s top 50.
“It’s wonderful to win your state open. The Australian Open is the pinnacle, sure, but the NSW Open has been a massive tournament to me since I turned pro in the late 1980s.
“One of the first pro events I ever played was the Open here (at Concord). It brings back a lot of good memories.”
O’Malley, Champion in 2010, the victory was a especially nice after a superb career on the European Tour, coming at a time when he had just lost playing right in Europe after almost 20 years.
“1985 was my first one at Concord. I’ve tried to play it whenever I could.
” I won a NSW Junior, a NSW Amateur and a NSW Open. I’m pretty proud of that record.”
“it not until your win home open you realise how much it means.”
Aaron Townsen’s win in 2008 came in familiar surroundings; at the Vintage, near his hometown of Newcastle.
“I didn’t realise how special it was at the time, up the road in the Hunter Valley with lots of people aorund. It was my first win too, so extra special.”
Michael Wright survived a nail-biter in 2005 to claim his NSW Open at Liverpool against a fast-finishing Craig Parry.
“It meant a hell of lot to me. It’s a distant memory at the moment, 16 years ago, but at the time extremely enjoyable, my second win on tour, and I will remember for a long time.”
Adam Blyth remembers his win for a couple of very special reasons. His then-fiancee – now wife, caddied for the opening two rounds, with his dad grabbing the duties over the weekend.
“It’s been the highlight of my career, an incredible week at Stonecutters.
“To share the winning moment with them, and celebrate that night was pretty special.”
The final word on the experience of being the NSW Open Champion, howeve came from defending Champion Josh Younger.
“I mean it was an amazing thing to look back on, and I’ve had 18 – 19 months to do so, to know your name is going to be on that trophy forever, well…It is pretty special,” he smiled.