17 Jan 2024 | Amateur golf |

#AusAm: Teen Harris chases monumental win

by Martin Blake

Amelia Harris AusAm image
Amelia Harris battles the weather at Keysborough today. Photo: Ethan Cunningham, GA

Wunderkind Amelia Harris vaulted into the lead in the women’s while Queenslander Kai Komulainen conceded his advantage to a Kiwi in the men’s at the adidas Australian Amateur after a sodden round two on the Melbourne sandbelt.

The 15-year-old Harris shot a 1-under par 72 at Keysborough today and in dreadful, wet and wintry morning conditions, it was enough to get her equal-top on the leaderboard with Japan’s Aina Fujimoto, the first-round leader.

Meanwhile in the men’s Kiwi Mitch Kale is on top after a pair of 67s and two closing birdies for embellishment at Yarra Yarra today, with Komulainen and Quinn Croker on his tail.

But the story of the week could be Harris, who will return to her home course, Yarra Yarra, for the final two rounds from Thursday with a monumental achievement in her sights.

Rounds of 70-72 have her at 4-under, tied with Fujimoto and a shot clear of South Australian Amelia Whinney and WA's Pantita Phobubpa at 3-under.

Harris would be one of the youngest-ever winners of the national championship, although Kiwi Lydia Ko’s landmark -- she won as a 14-year-old in 2011 at Woodlands – stands as the record.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said the girl who will begin year 11 studies at Mackinnon Secondary College in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs in a couple of weeks. “One-under today in the conditions here was was pretty good. I was hoping for even or 1-under.

“I’m feeling pretty confident going back to my home course for the next two days. I think just playing how I’d usually playe there, hopefully a couple under.”

Harris is in the Golf Australia High Performance programs and has won numerous junior championships including the Victorian Amateur Open, but this is another stratosphere.

Yarra Yarra and Keysborough momentarily went underwater in the morning downpour and a two-hour-30-minute interruption followed.

Course staff worked feverishly and lift-clean-place rules came into place, but some players did not have tee times until 4.33pm, taking the second round past 8:30pm.

Graciously the sun returned in the afternoon to everyone’s surprise, and the biggest beneficiaries were the late-starters like Kiwi Kale, who has a two-shot lead in the men’s.

At 8-under overall his two late birdies at holes 8 and 9 took him ahead of Komulainen, who shot even-par at Keysborough to remain at 6-under.

The Queenland 18-year-old who led through round one suffered for a double bogey 6 at the par-4 14th hole when his three wood tee shot sailed long and into a bush, requiring a penalty drop.

Kale, 22, from Tauranga, was actually born on the Gold Coast and only moved to NZ when he was 12, where he took up golf.

He was runner-up to Australian Jasper Stubbs in the 2022 NZ Amateur although he is not on the NZ team as such. Not yet at least.

“I haven’t had a bogey yet in two rounds, which is something I don’t usually do,” said Kale.

Capitalising on the best conditions of the day, he holed a 60-footer for par on the par-4 seventh hole to keep his streak running.

“I call myself a Kiwi, but I do have a little soft spot for the Aussies. My family is Kiwi-based. They were just living there (Gold Coast) at the time and my sister and me were raised as little Aussies.”

Another Queenslander, Quinn Croker, jumped into the mix at 5-under after a brilliant 64 at Yarra Yarra today, tied-third with American Noah Kent.

A couple of other locals, Yarra’s Phoenix Campbell (3-under) and Kingston Heath’s Abel Eduard (4-under) also remain prominent.

Runner-up among the pros at the Heritage Classic last week, Croker is in hot form. His gap wedge shot on the par-3 6th ought to have been a hole-in-one; instead it ruined the edge of the hole where it landed, and spun back to 12 feet. As is his way, he holed the birdie putt though.

“It’s probably mostly from trust in the game,” he said. We put in a fair bit of work and the practice has been pretty good coming into these events, and just getting out there and even if you don’t feel like you have it on the range, stick to the process and make good swings, and eventually results come from that.”

The cut was made on Wednesday night and the players return to Yarra Yarra on Thursday and again Friday for the final two rounds.

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