First tee nerves are nothing new for Jake McLeod [above], but 12 months working with a psychologist has thrust the young Queenslander to the forefront of Australian golf.
Winner of the AV Jennings New South Wales Open and third at the Emirates Australian Open, McLeod took full advantage of idyllic morning conditions at RACV Royal Pines Resort to share top spot on the Australian PGA Championship leaderboard with West Australian Matt Jager.
McLeod and Jager both posted rounds of six-under 66 in the morning half of the draw with Australian Open runner-up Dimi Papadatos and Korean Jae-Woong Eom a shot behind at five-under and Marc Leishman, Mathew Goggin and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui a further shot back at four-under.
Tied for sixth at the Fiji International and tied for second at the Royal Cup on the Asian Tour, McLeod has risen from 526th in the world 12 months ago to now be ranked 160th on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Leading the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, the rewards for another good week are significant but the 24-year-old credits his mental approach as a way of conquering any nerves that may kick in.
“I’m always very nervous on the first tee,” said McLeod, who made four birdies in his opening six holes.
“Obviously I was pretty nervous starting off but starting like that settles the nerves.
“I’ve seen a new psychologist six months to a year ago now and just the things we’ve been working on have been really good, so I think that’s definitely helped a lot. Just accepting how I’m going to feel, like I can’t change my thoughts and all that sort of stuff.
“I just need to stay really focused on the shot and have a bit of a laugh out there and just stay relaxed. And I’m starting to feel more comfortable out on the first tee as well.
“At the Aussie Open I felt really good out there. I think you just sort of forget about that. You’re still nervous, but you forget, so it’s pretty good.”
One shot from the lead after the opening round of the Australian Open, Jager struggled to keep pace over the weekend at The Lakes but carried with him the lessons and confidence from that week into his opening round at Royal Pines.
“I learnt a little bit about where my game was at, but what I took from that was how well I played the back nine every day with the wind and the water there,” said Jager [above]. “That back nine is pretty daunting but how I played that back nine gave me a lot of confidence.
“I chipped in on the last hole of the tournament on 18 at the Aussie Open and that basically just sealed off a good week for me. I felt good about everything from that, learnt from my little mistakes, and just come here and we’ll roll the dice and this has been a good start.”
While McLeod’s round featured six birdies and no bogeys, Jager made eagle twice in the space of four holes to make the turn at four-under, adding three birdies and a lone bogey at the par-4 eighth to close out his round.
Local favourite Cameron Smith was in position to also feature prominently on the round-one leaderboard before bogeys on each of his closing two holes saw him sign for a two-under 70.
“Pretty unfortunate to make a couple mistakes on the last couple of holes there,” Smith said post-round.
“Had a bit of a dicey lie on eight and wasn’t sure how it was going to come out. Because I was playing good I probably went a little bit more aggressive than I should have, but that’s something that I was willing to risk. It just didn’t quite pay off.
“But the rest of the day was really good. Struck it really well, just didn’t quite have the putter going today. Greens are quite different this week and just struggled a bit with the pace. All in all, pretty good day.”