The past isn’t always a happy place for Scott Strange, but today at 13th Beach it was his best mate.
Strange, 38, of Perth, wound back the putting clock to card a spectacular joint course-record nine-under-par 63 on the Creek Course to charge to the Oates Vic Open lead after round one.
And aside from consistent New South Welshman Aaron Price (67) and Victorian David Bransdon (68), the leaderboard was awash with the yellow and black of Western Australia.
Michael Sim played one of the great shots ever seen on the Creek Course to set up an eagle on the 17th on his way to five under alongside Price.
Among a host of five players at three under, including past champion Matt Griffin, were three more West Aussies – Michael Long, Stephen Dartnall and Jarryd Felton.
And rounding out the Sandgropers’ charge, Brady Watt and classy amateur Curtis Luck were among 15 players tied for 11th at two under.
But with the wind gusting across the coastal courses, not even the leaders could comprehend Strange’s spectacular score.
“I felt like I was 15 again with the putter, I was holing everything,” Strange beamed after his nine-under-par round.
“I actually said to the guys, `This is ridiculous’.
“I was looking at 30-footers and they were just going in, centre cup. It was windy and it was difficult, but any day you’re doing that, you’re going to shoot a number and today I just managed to roll some putts in.”
Strange was nothing short of imperious through the first two hours of his round with his only blemish a bogey up the relatively easy par-four ninth hole, his last after starting on the 10th.
The Hartfield Country Club member twice had stretches of three birdies on the back nine, then went through the turn with a birdie on the first and eagle on the par-five second to go nine under through 11.
But despite the avalanche of red numbers, Strange said the magical 59 didn’t enter his mind.
“I had 3-4-5 (that are tough) and six is a tucked pin and you can’t get to that. I knew I had seven and nine when I could get something back, but you’re not really thinking about it until you get to those holes.
“So no, I was just playing, we were having a bit of a chat and a good old time.”
Things haven’t always been that way for Strange, whose ability has never been questioned through years of successful golf on the European Tour.
After victories in the 2008 Welsh Open and 2009 China Open, Strange was safely ensconced in the top 100, but soon afterwards lost his love for the game after a couple of family tragedies.
It’s only in the past couple of years that he has rediscovered his passion with his emphasis now firmly on his Perth home base.
“Our family went through a fair bit. I had a few things going on in my life and I hated golf. You can’t play sport doing that,” Strange said.
“But my whole life has changed. I used to be very selfish and play golf for myself and I don’t now, I play golf for my family. I can’t wait to go home when I’m finished next week whereas before I would go to Europe for six or seven months straight.
“I don’t do any more than 3-4 weeks now and I can’t wait to go home. Life changes. I try to keep a better balance, but life’s a lot calmer than what it was.”
Strange is now happily commuting between WA and the Japan Tour and has no real desire to rekindle his European career.
“I was a long way from home and I remember at the end of 2012 when I came home and two weeks later I was a different person – I was closer to everything,” he said.
“It makes life a lot easier if things are going wrong, because it seemed like every time I went away, something bad was happening. The closer to home … the better. Maybe it’s just returning back to Australia – being around friends and being around family.
“I went back to Europe a few years ago and played the Wales Open … and within five hours of being back in my (old European house), the bad feelings came back. We were there for a couple of weeks and I said to Lucinda (my wife), `I’m pretty happy to be going home right now’.”
Strange, the 2009 OneAsia order of merit winner, has had a swag of great finishes in the past few seasons, but hasn’t saluted in six years, so knows not to count his chickens after round one.
“Back in 2013 (I) shot 19 under around The Hills (in China) and 21 under in Thailand and finished runner-up both times. It’s not as if I’ve been playing poorly and losing, just that guys have been playing a little bit better even when I went well,” he said.
“One day it might come back, who knows?”
His 63 is sufficient evidence that it’s close, if not already there.
Strange once shot a 61 in the Port Hedland pro-am, but doesn’t keep track of any other course records he might own, except for one that he’s very proud of – the 61 that still sits on the wall at Hartfield.
“It’s good (to equal course record). But (better is that) I haven’t shot nine under in a long time.
“It’s nice to actually get it going. When you play a lot of tough golf courses all the time, you forget how to score and make a lot birdies. So when you get the chance, it’s nice.
“I don’t keep track of (whether I have any) course records. I have mine at my golf club and that’s all that matters.
“But it’s the start of the season, I haven’t won for a while, I’ve had quite a few runner-up finishes the last four or five years. It would mean a lot, it would mean I’m getting back to where I was – it’s been a long way back. But who knows? It’s Thursday.”
Sim, 31, is desperate to break his Aussie professional duck having won four times in the United States.
And his driver off the deck on the 17th into the wind from almost 220m to inside 2m gave him the impetus to believe he could catch Strange, his roommate for the week in Barwon Heads.
Sim was rapt to see so many of his state brethren in the mix, saying the afternoon breezes they’d grown up playing held them in good stead on the Bellarine Peninsula.
“I did, and I’m sure the other guys did, played most of my golf in the afternoon with the members growing up and you learn how to play in the wind,” he said.
“I just haven’t played in the wind for a few months, but if you’re playing well and can flight your ball well and keep the spin down … it’s an advantage for you.”
Amazingly, Queenslander Michael Wright holed out from off the green on three successive holes on the Beach Course en route to an entertaining 71, one of 35 scores better than par.
The cut will be made tomorrow at 50 leading pros plus ties, with a secondary cut to 35 and ties on Saturday evening.