22 Jan 2024 | Amateur golf |

Clayton: When strokeplay turns into a match

by Mike Clayton

Amelia Harris Aus Am image
Amelia Harris was adidas Australian Amateur runner-up aged just 15. Photo: Tim Pollock

Many have lamented the decision to decide the Australian Amateur championship over four-rounds of strokeplay after 300 men’s and women’s matchplay finals dating back to the 1890s.

The Americans tried strokeplay from 1965 to 1972 and reverted to matches but memorable strokeplay events eventually turn into matchplay and so it was at Yarra Yarra, at least on the women’s side of the draw.

The 15-year-old Yarra Yarra member Amelia Harris began the final day of the women’s championship six shots ahead of the 16-year-old Japanese player Mamika Shinchi.

It should have been a big enough break, but Harris fumbled her way around the front nine, three-putting both short holes, and marginally pulling irons into the 4th and 7th greens and failing to save her pars.

Likely they were simply errors of a nervous schoolgirl but from there she played good golf, but not quite good enough.

Shinchi herself got to the 8th tee one over after 2s at both short holes but bogeys at the difficult 2nd, the easy short par-4 5th -- after a sloppy pitch into the guarding front bunker -- and the 7th.

From there her golf was remarkable. She birdied both par-5s to finish the front nine and pitched close at the 10th for another birdie, one matched by Harris.

The 11th at Yarra is both famous and undisputedly one of the finest short holes in the country, and the pin was devilishly cut far to the right just over the longest edge of the diagonal bunker Alex Russell cut all the way across the front of the green. There is no running the ball onto the 11th green at Yarra Yarra and nor is there any getting away with a marginal shot.

Shinchi, now only one behind, went first and hit the most perfect sliding left-to-right iron which finished maybe 18 feet left of the hole.

Harris flew right at the flag, perhaps even marginally right of it, and it’s a line where only a perfectly struck shot makes the carry all the way across the sand. Her ball finished a touch further from the hole, but both were high class shots.

They birdied the downwind 13th, an easy par-5 but Harris’ three-putt bogey to Shinchi’s birdie at the 14th was a telling, and ultimately, deciding exchange.

Still, Harris finished with three birdies and may have at least expected to pick up a shot or two, but Shinchi matched her as both birdied the par 5, 16th and then pitched close at the 17th.

The Japanese player then saved a four from the deep bunker at the front of the 18th green to preserve a two-shot lead after Harris hit a beautiful long iron into the middle of the green.

Quinn Croker proved the class of the men’s field which included Queensland PGA Champion Phoenix Campbell and Asian Amateur Champion Jasper Stubbs who is headed to Augusta and The Masters.

The Royal Queensland member, second last week behind Matt Griffin in the Australian tour event at The Heritage, beat Campbell by five shots after middle rounds of 64 at Yarra Yarra. A final, three under, 67 only confirmed the class of a man with four top-10 finishes in his five starts on this season’s Australian Tour.

Likely, he’s going to be a good one.

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