10 Jan 2020 | Amateur golf |

College golfers win Master of Amateurs

by Martin Blake

Sahith Theegala, Alyaa Abdulghany image
Green jacket winners Sahith Theegala and Alyaa Abdulghany at Victoria today.

Two products of the American college system have taken out the prestigious Australian Master of the Amateurs titles at Victoria.

American Sahith Theegala, 22, blew away the men’s field to win by four shots, while a playoff was needed before Malaysia’s Alyaa Abdulghany, 20, a college teammate of Australian Gabi Ruffels’ at the University of Southern California, took out the women’s green jacket.

Theegala, who has one semester to complete his degree at Pepperine University in California, flew his own way to Melbourne for the tournament and obliterated his opposition.

Starting out with a five-shot lead he ended with almost the same margin, although lots happened in between – notably two double bogeys including a four-putt, and three bogeys in his first seven holes.

The lead over South Australia’s Jack Thompson had been trimmed to one and a boilover was in the making. But Theegala hit two pure shots on the par-five eighth, rolled in his eagle putt from three metres, then got up-and-down for birdie at the par-five ninth to give himself breathing room.

“I’d played the last six holes in seven over and I’m thinking … still not getting ahead of myself,’’ he said later. “I knew the par-fives were gettable there. It was hard to stay patient, but I did stay patient, and I hit two great shots on eight.”

He closed with a 75 in tough, windy conditions but it was well and truly enough for the American whose parents emigrated to Los Angeles from India when they were in their 20s. He intends turning professional in June this year.

“This is huge,” he said. “This is one of the best events in the world. Even back in the States, everyone knows this event and it’s highly rated. So to come over here and win that, it’s up there with my best wins.’’

At 10-under par, he finished four shots ahead of Jang Hyun Lee of South Korea at six-under. Thompson was outright third at five-under, a nice warm-up for the Australian Amateur in Brisbane next week.

Abdulghany’s win was more adventurous. Caught in a two-player stoush with Queensland’s Cassie Porter, the Malaysian must have felt she had blown it when she took bogey from the front, left trap at No. 17 and left the Australian with a two-shot lead.

At three-under par overall, Porter, 17, went up the last leading Abdulghany by two, but then Chinese Taipei’s Ho Yu An posted two-under for the clubhouse lead. Porter has a reputation as a coming champion and so easily could have secured her biggest win. A par would have done it.

But from centre-fairway on the par-five 18th she flared her three wood shot into the furry grass around the greenside trap, flew her pitch over the green and could not get up-and-down, conceding a shot to par and closing with a 75.

At the same time Abdulghany two-putted for birdie to force a three-way playoff up the first, the short par-four. Porter and An pushed their tee shots right and into the sand and could only make par; Abdulghany flushed a three wood to the heart of the green, two-putted for birdie, and took the title.

“Things happen, and you have to keep going forward,” said Abdulghany of her mishap at the 17th hole, where she had taken two shots shots to exit the left trap. “That’s why it’s ‘one shot at a time’ and ‘keep playing’.

“I haven’t won in a while and this win is definitely very important for me. It’s a boost for me and it gets me ready for the season coming up at college. I’m very excited to see where it’s headed.’’

Abdulghany moved from Malaysia to the US when she was six, her father taking up a telecommunications job. She has one-and-a-half years left at USC, which she will share with Australia’s Ruffels, the US Amateur champion. “We’re good mates,” she said. “We always push each other, always try to do what’s best.’’

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