14 Jan 2022 | Professional golf |

Clayton: Young talent to burn

by Mike Clayton

Louis Dobbelaar PGA day 1 image
Louis Dobbelaar is the outright leader at 64 after the first round of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship. Photo: PGA

Doubling as caddy and reporter on the day’s play is tricky but occasionally you really luck out.

Elvis Smylie is my boss this week and we headed out just before midday Thursday with Louis Dobbelaar and the Scottish-born Queenslander, Karis Davidson.

Smylie and Dobbelaar are two of our brightest young hopes, and the announcement this week the three leading players on the money list earn an exemption on to the men’s European Tour was incentive enough to play a great tournament.

Elvis and I had a front row seat to Dobbelaar’s brilliant round, a 64, and most of the work was done by the time we had reached the seventh tee.

Louis pitched well into the first but after showing no intent of holing the 12-footer down the hill he played safely back with an iron off the second tee and then flew a wedge straight into the hole.

A long second into the next bounced up to 10 feet and after the putt went down, a perfectly flighted, into the wind, seven iron settled only a metre from the flag at the par-three, fourth hole.

His long drive down the bravest line barely skirted the bunker 300 metres off the fifth tee and whilst the pitch wasn’t near enough, he made up for it at the sixth when a wedge left him with a kick-in to get to five under par.

From there he played sensible but hardly mistake-free golf. Wild drives, right off the 13th and 15th tees and left off the 16th, didn’t cost him anything; indeed he made a birdie at the 15th after a neat pitch from the left of the green.

Then he tugged a short iron approach at the final hole but from the sand he showed the members how best to manage a troublesome downhill lie. His perfectly played explosion shot settled down only a few of feet from the hole and four was all but a formality.

Elvis shot three under but wasn’t at his best, his normally reliable driver letting him down and while hitting seven fairways might be all right on a US Open course where an absurdly narrow 25-yards is the norm, it’s hardly enough at Royal Queensland. In fairness, the 14th fairway is so narrow hardly anyone hits it and what looked like a perfect three wood off the 18th found the fairway bunker in the middle of the fairway.

All I could do was apologise, one for putting it there and two, promising him a three wood wouldn’t reach it.

In my defence, it is 285 metres off the tee and three woods aren’t supposed to go that far.

Davidson was around in 70, a mix of six birdies and four bogeys, two of them on par fives. She has spent a couple of years playing in Japan where westerners are hardly a big presence on their tour, and she looks forward to playing the LPGA Tour this season where socialising will be a lot easier – even if the food isn’t as good.

Su Oh’s 66 was the best of the women with her lone bogey coming at the 16th, a short par four with a green bordering on the controversial. A deep swale cutting through the middle makes for difficult pitching and it’s easy to get it wrong, but there are fine lines at RQ and getting on the wrong side of the line is penal.

At the drivable 12th Dobbelaar played safely off the tee with a mid-iron leaving him 90 metres to the hole from a perfect angle. Elvis went at the green with a three wood and almost got it right – but not quite. Walking off the tee we discussed the philosophy of the hole, I said to them both that Louis should have an equal chance of making three from where he was as Elvis did from the 30 brutally difficult feet he has left to cover.

Louis duly pitched to 10 feet and made three while Elvis took four from where he was and made his only bogey off the day.

“I think” said, Smylie, “I’ll hit an iron off the tee tomorrow.”

Let’s see if he can resist the temptation.

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