Defending Australian PGA champ Nathan Holman insists that the good vibes from a return to RACV Royal Pines this week are enough to overcome any nagging doubts about a back complaint that brought his maiden European Tour season to a premature end.
Holman (pictured above) made his return to the venue where he wrote his name into the Australian golf history books 12 months ago on Monday with the Joe Kirkwood Cup in his possession, handing it back to the PGA of Australia while vowing to reclaim it again on Sunday afternoon.
It took just one playoff journey down the demanding 18th at Royal Pines for Holman to edge out American Harold Varner III and South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli last year and not only claim the first win of his professional career but a two-year card in Europe.
Despite winning more than 514,000 euros in his rookie season Holman missed a place in the Race to Dubai finale by just three shots and was forced to withdraw from his final event of the year, the rich Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, due to a back injury.
Confirming that the injury was caused more by a long season than any structural issues, Holman is confident two weeks of practice on his home course, Woodlands Golf Club on the Melbourne sandbelt, has him in a good frame of mind at Royal Pines.
“It wasn’t a great way to finish the year over in Europe,” Holman said. “I kind of had a bad back since October and I never really got enough time to let it heal up and definitely over the last two weeks it’s been a good time at home and being able to do some good practice and let the back heal up.
“It’s the first time I’ve had to withdraw from a tournament through injury. That was a new experience and something you don’t want to have to do too often. I’m happy to be swinging well and looking forward to Thursday. There was no real problem, just back tightness and soreness. No structural damage or anything that’s going to be too concerning looking forward.
“There was a lot of golf and I never really had a time to shut down. I played nine out of 10 weeks and I was kind of running towards the end of the season trying to stay in front of that Race to Dubai number. Chasing my tail a little bit didn’t help but it’s nice to have that two weeks off now and feel fresh for this week. I can go and tee off on Thursday pain-free.
“It’s very nice to come back and get those feelings again and it definitely gives you some confidence and some clarity in your head.”
Holman begin his defence playing alongside Rod Pampling and Ian Poulter, off the first tee at 11.15am tomorrow, Queensland time. He’s on the opposite side of the draw to local hero Adam Scott, who will play alongside two-time PGA champion Greg Chalmers and US and Asian Amateur champion Curtis Luck in the first two rounds.
Scott’s team-mate at last week’s World Cup of Golf, Marc Leishman, is in the Australian PGA field along with four-time Australian PGA champion Robert Allenby, Australia’s Olympic representatives Marcus Fraser and Scott Hend, the ebullient Englishman Poulter, New Zealand No.1 and US PGA Tour winner Danny Lee and big-hitting American Jamie Sadlowski.
As for a marquee pairing to open his title defence, Holman insisted that with the strength of this year’s field he will be happy to tee it up alongside any of the competitors taking part.
“You don’t expect anything. I’m looking forward to playing on Thursday no matter who I’m paired with. It’d be lovely to go out with any of those guys,” Holman said. “It’s just nice playing in an event with them here.
“Adam’s done it for a long time now, he’s come back and supported our tour, Marc’s back again which is good and then also Ian, a bit of international class there. It’s definitely nice to have those guys here. It adds class for the tournament and is better for everyone.
“Every competitor here will get something out of those guys playing this week.”