Rising star Louis Dobbelaar delighted his hometown fans with a brilliant afternoon round to seize the lead at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship Thursday.
Dobbelaar, 20, scooted around Royal Queensland in a course-record 65 despite the fluky afternoon breeze.
At seven-under, the Brookwater Golf and Country Club product leads the men’s tournament by a shot from two more Queenslanders, Aaron Pike, whose course record lasted barely a couple of hours, and Jed Morgan, who made the most of his familiarity with the course.
Dobbelaar’s profile is not yet high but in golf circles he has not escaped notice. He’s shown himself to be a winner, securing two big amateur tournaments in America last year to go with a cluster of state amateur titles over his career before turning pro and playing his way on to the PGA Tour Latino, where he will ply his trade later in 2022.
Coached by Cameron Smith’s instructor Grant Field, he carries some of the same sublime short-game touch, and he has been guided in a sense by Smith, who hosted Dobbelaar at his Jacksonville home a year or so ago for some tutelage.
His highlight reel began with a hole-out with a sand wedge for eagle from 102 metres for an eagle at the par-four second hole, and he rolled in six more birdies for the day to get the crowd up and about and – since some of the tee boxes have been moved at RQ – he sets a new course record.
“After being away for so long, it’s good to hear some good Queenslanders around,” he said later.
Dobbelaar, who has Garry Kissick, Ash Barty’s fiancée on his bag this week, has yet to win a pay cheque as a professional, having competed in just one Latino Tour event before Christmas for a missed cut. But he might be in the mix this week.
“Yeah, well I haven’t made any money yet, so it’s definitely something new to me,” he said. “I think it’s probably a bit overwhelming at first when you haven’t really earnt much, so once I accepted that I think I can just keep on doing my stuff and just play golf after that.”
He is headed back to Mexico next month to resume playing the Latino Tour, and he is finding his way as a pro already. “Yeah, definitely, I think I found a few things last year that I guess have helped me transition into being a pro. Yeah, it’s all exciting stuff and I’m grateful to be where I am today.”
Morgan was one over par through four holes, but he fired from there, putting the icing on the cake with an iron to the shadow of the flagstick at the 18th for a birdie at a 66.
“I started pretty ordinary,” he said. “I was very nervous. I had a lot of, obviously, support and I guess a bit of expectation on myself and I think a few people do as well, but I was pretty nervous trying to handle that first few holes, but then rolled one in on five and just said, ‘just keep going for it’, kind of thing, and it turned out pretty well. I’m pretty happy.”
Morgan, who had younger brother Lincoln on the bag, won the 2020 Men’s Australian Amateur at Royal Queensland, where he has been a member for the past five years, and did not want for support.
“I hadn’t even teed off on 17 and all the boys in the back were cheering already and they knew I was on the tee box,” he said. “Honestly, I said to Marco, my caddie, ‘you don’t get this very often’, so I’m over the moon.”
World No. 49 and headline act this week Min Woo Lee made a steady start to be three shots back after a round of 68 but it was Pike who led the field out early on a course he knows as well as anyone.
Winner of the 2020 NT PGA Championship at a golf course that backs onto his childhood home, Pike moved to Brisbane as a teenager and has logged countless rounds at RQ.
You still have to execute the shots to score well but the two-time PGA Tour of Australasia winner admits it is an advantage to be in such a lofty spot on the leaderboard at a course he knows so well.
“It’s something that we have to just get used to,” Pike said.
“You want to be winning these. You want to be at the top of the tree and you want the camera on you.
“You want the interviews, you want all these kind of things.
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable is something that I’ve had to basically just get over and learn to do it.
“It’s something that sort of comes pretty easy, but as I said, I’m playing a golf course I know pretty well.
“Obviously being a Brisbane boy, I’m pretty fortunate to get to play out here a bit and in terms of golf courses, this is one that really does suit my game.
“It’s quite open off the tee and you’ve got to be a bit more precise with your irons and putting’s a real premium around here, so those factors, it does bode well for me.”