It took 36 epic holes, but when the moment presented itself, Matias Sanchez grabbed his spot in history with two incredibly calm hands.
Sanchez, 18, played inspired golf today in one of the greatest finals in living memory to beat Min Woo Lee 1-up to win the Australian Amateur Championship, presented by Swinging Skirts.
The Royal Melbourne member peeled off 11 birdies in the 36-hole final that will long be remembered for its incredible shot-making by both players on a Yarra Yarra course set up to challenge.
Remarkably, 16 holes were either won by, or halved in, birdies throughout a match of incredible ebbs and flows, none more so than the final three holes each won by Sanchez after Lee looked home at 2-up on the 34th tee.
“I can’t believe this and I can’t believe that finish,” Sanchez said.
“I knew I had to something special because Min was playing some great golf and had a lot of momentum there on the 16th and for that shot to drop, it just gave me a huge lift.
“From there, I just got on a roll, I think. My drive up the last got lucky, but when I had that last putt to win (2m up the hill), I could see the line and hit a good putt and then the feeling was just amazing.”
When Sanchez refers to “that shot” on the 16th, he’ll sleep with a smile for months recalling the putter he hit from 10m behind the green, bumping it up the hill to a tough pin position and watching it fall for birdie on its last roll.
With Lee sitting 2.5m away for a potential par, it was a huge momentum swing at the critical time.
A wayward tee shot up the 17th cost Lee a bogey, then the pair’s fortunes took separate paths again off the 18th tee.
Sanchez’s drive hit the wall of the left bunker, but somehow popped up and forward to allow him a shot from rough that he managed to advance to the jaws of the green.
Lee, however, watched in disbelief as his drive ran into a bunker 290m up on the right, then his approach landed hard on the back of the green and scurried up the hill to a position from which bogey was his ultimate penalty.
Sanchez calmly chipped to 2m to heap pressure on his good Perth mate, then rolled in the title clinching putt to the roars of the hordes of Royal Melbourne fans who’d come to watch.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Sanchez said.
“I had to focus on the putt and not what it would mean and I managed to do it really well and when I hit it I knew it was good.
“What a feeling.”
Lee, also 18, was typically gracious in defeat and could hold his head high for entertaining the huge gallery with some audacious golf, including a shot his caddie – Jack Deftereos-Brennan, a player here earlier in the week – described in awe as “the greatest he’d ever seen”.
Lee was seemingly hemmed in by trees up the right of the 14th fairway and was urged by his bagman to play for safety towards the 15th tee.
The Royal Fremantle member had other ideas, though, and carved a low running slice that absolutely thrilled the crowd and gave them a great taste of what lies ahead in his career.
“Hats off to Matias, he played some great golf, especially in those last few holes,” Lee said.
“You never like to lose, but he played some incredible golf today.”
The Melburnian began like a man who had a flight to catch in the morning round.
He opened with three straight birdies to bolt to a 3-up lead and it wasn’t until the 32nd hole that Lee took his first lead for the day.
The reigning US Boys’ Amateur champ turned his miraculous escape shot into a par as Sanchez took bogey from the front right trap and was finally 1-up after seven hours of intense chasing.
He immediately doubled that lead when Sanchez couldn’t make a sand save on the imposing 15th and the title looked headed west again.
But Sanchez dug deep when it mattered most and history will record him as a more than worthy champion.
Unofficially, he took 11 birdies and just six bogeys through his 36-hole ride to glory.
Officially, tonight at least, he’s the best amateur player in the land.
When the history of the women’s Australian Amateur Championship, presented by Swinging Skirts, is analysed in the future, one gets the feeling Hye-jin Choi’s name will sit very comfortably among its champions.
Choi, the world No.4, said after her 4&2 win over compatriot So-mi Lee that she has her sights trained on becoming the world No.1 at some point in 2017 before turning professional and starting her next big climb.
Whether she can achieve that first feat before taking up entry into next month’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open – one of her grand prizes today – is debatable.
But that she’ll get there soon is a likelihood that would surprise nobody who saw her dominate at Yarra Yarra and Kingswood in Melbourne this week.
Choi, the individual champion as Korea romped to the World Amateur Teams Championship in Mexico last year, was a comfortable winner of the medal as the stroke play champion on Wednesday, too.
And she lived up to her No.1 seeding with some timely birdies and, simply, fewer mistakes to finally overpower Lee, the tournament’s great surprise packet.
Choi, who played at The Grange in last year’s Women’s Australian Open, said she wasn’t ready to tackle for higher honours in 2016.
But, through an interpreter, she said her game had improved to the point that she would feel far more comfortable at Royal Adelaide next month.
“My game is better than it was last year. My teammates have really pushed me and I’m excited to get the chance to come back to the Australian Open and do better this time,” she said.
“We (the Korean team) have had a good year and it’s that they push me and I push them that makes us better.
“I this So-mi is a very good player, but she just didn’t play her best today,” Choi said modestly.
The surprisingly powerful Choi was 2-up at the halfway point of the 36-hole final at Yarra Yarra and was quickly under pressure when she bogeyed the 19th hole in the afternoon to have her lead halved.
But every time Lee pushed, Choi had a response and eventually won the 34th hole to take an unassailable 4-up lead.
“It’s a great honour (to win this trophy),” she told the crowd at the presentation.
One suspects the trophy will be proud to have her name in the future.