In their dreams, the Victorian men’s team probably contemplated toppling New South Wales to win the Interstate Series, but not one of its members would have dared contemplate the manner in which that dream was brought to life on a memorable day at Perth’s Melville Glades Golf Club yesterday.
Victoria, the heavy underdog against a remarkably talented NSW team that had brushed aside all comers in the qualifying rounds, somehow found an extra gear in a final for the ages.
But even then it came down to one incredibly tense shootout on the final green in the No.3 match to determine the champion, with Cameron John’s birdie putt the difference in a 4.5-3.5 win for the Vics.
The final’s premise was that NSW, as minor round champion, would win if it could achieve four points from the eight-man final. That went from a strong chance when Kevin Yuan, Travis Smyth and then Dylan Perry all edged clear in the final’s early stages.
Slowly at first, but then with a rush, the bottom four matches all swung dramatically Victoria’s way.
Will Heffernan turned in three-under at No.7, Blake Collyer snuck clear of brilliant youngster Josh Armstrong at No.6, and Lukas Michel gained momentum against Blake Windred at No.5.
That momentum was first converted to a point, though, by the unsung Matias Sanchez. When the Australian Amateur champion poured in his sixth birdie on the 13th green to shut down Isaac Noh 6&5, there was an air of “just maybe” that spread around the Victorian contingent.
About 20 minutes later, and in quick succession, Heffernan finally wore down the impressive James Grierson 2&1, Collyer saw off Armstrong by the same margin despite the Canberran’s eagle on the 13th and Michel toppled Blake Windred 4&3 in a match of two unbeaten players.
Suddenly Victoria had four points and victory, surely, a formality. But that’s not the way of matches between these great rivals – and particularly not this tremendously resilient NSW combination.
The understated but ruthlessly efficient Yuan wore down Kyle Michel 3&2 at No.4 to spark the comeback.
World No.17 Harrison Endycott finally overcame David Micheluzzi 3&2 in a birdie-fest at No.2 and in a high-quality top match, Smyth maintained his early edge throughout against Victorian skipper Zach Murray to win 2&1.
Just as suddenly, the match was on a knife’s edge at 4-3 and the entire focus fell on Perry and John at No.3.
Perry had been superb early and led by as many as four through 10 holes. But a string of birdies by the mercurial John, the recently crowned Australian Junior champion, enabled the young Victorian to snare a 1-up lead and look even safer as his approach to the 16th green left him a long birdie try.
Then another key twist. Three putts from John left Perry a chance to strike and the gritty New South Welshman obliged to draw level again.
With John long on the par-3 17th, a flawless par by Perry suddenly had NSW in a position to seize the critical fourth point required and the title was, surely, headed back north of the Murray River. But this clash was too epic to end there.
With Perry inside 45 metres and with a perfect line to the pin for his third to the par-5 18th, it looked a stretch for John, whose second was 78m from the pin and in the first cut of rough. Yet somehow he played arguably the shot of his young life, nipping perfectly a sand wedge that landed three metres short, bounced once and fizzed to a rest just 80 centimetres from the cup. Undeterred, Perry also played a beauty inside two metres and had a chance to snare the title with a birdie.
And then the pendulum swung one final time.
Perry hit a putt that for all money looked in the left side, but hooked out and spun agonisingly right of the cup. John, who later admitted to the most nervous moment of his 18 years, calmly slotted his birdie and the underdog Victorians erupted.
The hole victory halved an epic match, crucially giving Victoria the 4.5 points it needed for a second men’s title in three years and to complete the double after its women’s team had also beaten NSW a day earlier at Royal Fremantle.
“I couldn’t feel the putter in my hands,” John said. “It’s just amazing that it could all come down to that and … I was thinking of how much great work all the boys had done to put us in that position, so I was pumped when it went in. I heard all the boys yell and it was just a great feeling.
“It was just an amazing moment to be part of. I’ve done a lot of cool things in golf, but to win something with a team of mates like that is something I’ll never forget. It’s awesome.”
It was a cruel finish for a NSW team regarded by all who saw them play as a squad worthy of defending the title they won in Brisbane last year. But that mattered little to the Victorians who lived out captain Murray’s pre-tournament hope that “all we want is a chance in the final”.
That chance, now, amazingly taken and converted into one of the most remarkable afternoons in the storied history of the Interstate Series.
See http://www.golf.org.au/live-scores#/competition/1144295/teammatch/98606 for full details.