27 Oct 2023 | Amateur golf |

AAC: Sandbelt rookie Dowling leads the way for Australia at Royal Melbourne

by Martin Blake

Billy Dowling
Australia's Billy Dowling tees off the par-4 ninth at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship

Billy Dowling is having the week of his life at Royal Melbourne, and he might have a bit more to say about that over the weekend.

The 18-year-old from Surfers Paradise, who was a late addition to the field for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, played like a veteran for the second straight day and at 1-under par, he is well in contention for a victory that would change his life.

A win on Sunday carries a guaranteed invite to the 2024 Masters at Augusta National and The Open Championship at Royal Troon.

Dowling shot a 2-over 73 on Friday to be the leading Australian after 36 holes at -1 in a tie for third overall in his first Sandbelt golf experience.

The lead is held by Chuan-Tai Lin (Chinese Taipei) and Wenyi Ding (China) at 3-under, with Dowling is in a group of four alongside first-round leader Kazuma Kobori (NZ), Randy Bintang (Indonesia) and Jimmy Zheng (NZ).

Victorian Jasper Stubbs, who was vying for the lead until he had four bogeys in his final eight holes, is the next best Australian after following his opening 68 with a 74 to sit at even-par.

Five Australians sit inside the top 20 heading in the weekend, with 12 of the 13-man contingent making the cut which came at +12.

Australia’s No.1 ranked player coming into the event, Jeff Guan (NSW), is at +2, and still with a chance to challenge at the weekend, after rounds of 73-71.

But it’s Dowling who will be in the second last group for round three tomorrow.

When he birdied his first two holes of the second round today, the ninth and the 10th, the Queenslander had a share of the lead with Kobori at 5-under.

He knew what the scoreboard said, but kept pressing.

“I didn't really think about it too much,” he said. “Just tried to think hole by hole, and yeah, just tried to make as many birdies from there and minimise the mistakes.”

Then, disaster.

At the brilliant, par-3 11th (aka 5th on the West Course), his tee shot came up short and ran down into the ravine that lurks below. By the time he three-putted from the back par to the tilted green, he had made double-bogey five.

But Dowling has won four tournaments in recent weeks, including the Queensland Amateur, and he is made of stronger stuff than his jockey’s physique suggests.

He birdied 13, banked his pars and then made another bogey at the seventh from a fairway trap, and one to close at the eighth for a 73.

“I just didn't hole too many putts today.  That was all,” he said.  “Everything else was pretty solid.”

Dowling had never played Royal Melbourne prior to this week, which makes his performance in this event all the more remarkable.

“I've enjoyed it,” he said.  “I think it's a really cool course.  The style of play is a lot different, and I think even though I have not had a lot of time to prepare, I think I've done pretty well and I'm quite happy with the way I played.”

He’s receiving loads of messages from home, and his former classmates at Helensvale State High School must be proud.

A couple of appearances in professional tournaments on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia have helped his mindset, he believes.

“I think it has.  Those couple events you are playing with people who are also just as good and don't make too many mistakes.  You learn that you've got to minimise the damage and just make as many birdies as possible to keep you in there because if you make a few more bogeys than expected, you drop down the leaderboard pretty quick.”

The leaders will tee off around 11.15am with entry to the course free.

The final two rounds will be on Fox Sports via Kayo and Foxtel

Australian scores

-1 Billy Dowling (68-73)

Even Jasper Stubbs (68-74)

+2 Jeff Guan (73-71)

+3 Max Charles (73-72); Harry Takis (71-74)

+6 Quinn Croker (73-75)

+7 Jye Pickin (76-73); Connor McDade (74-75)

+9 Lucas Michel (73-78)

+11 Connor Fewkes (77-76)

+12 Jack Buchanan (79-75); Jake Riley (77-77)

Missed the cut

+19 Harry Bolton (80-81)

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