08 Mar 2020 | Amateur golf |

Curtis, Wong triumph at Riversdale

by Martin Blake

Lawrence Curtis, Jeneath Wong trophy image
Riversdale Cup winners Jeneath Wong, Lawrence Curtis and Warren Sutton. Photo: Golf NSW

Peninsula Kingswood’s Lawrence Curtis was a surprise winner of the men’s Riversdale Cup today, while 15-year-old Jeneath Wong again proved herself a superstar of the future by capturing the women’s event easily.

Curtis beat Queenslander Lewis Hoath and Western Australia’s Haydn Barron in a dramatic three-hole playoff to etch his name alongside some of the legends of Australian golf as a Riversdale winner.

It took him until the third hole, where he made a putt of just beyond a metre for birdie, to shake off Hoath.

But it was more than that. Curtis is an off-the-radar 23-year-old. Until today, he had never won a big amateur event; nor has he played for his state.

Coached by Dale Lynch, he was selected in a state elite squad three years ago but that squad was disbanded.

“Not so much surprised,” he said later. “I feel like I’ve been working hard and I was struggling early in the year then the last three or four weeks I’ve found some form, which is nice. I had a steady first round then it started to click. A couple of putts went in over the last couple of days.”

Curtis joined the lead when he birdied the par-four 16th hole from close range, closing with a four-under par 68 to reach a playoff with Barron (68 today) and Hoath (66), all of them at 10-under par. Barron could have finished it at the 18th in regulation when he had a downhiller from inside two metres to reach 11-under, but it missed.

Overnight leader Victorian Andre Lautee fell away with a 71 to finish tied-fourth.

The playoff was epic. Curtis hit an astonishing tee shot on to the green in the first playoff hole, the par-four 18th on the course at just more than 280 metres, and playing back into a stiff south-easterly wind.

So did Hoath hit the green there, and both he and Curtis two-putted for birdie while Barron could only make par from the right, greenside trap. He dropped out at that point.

At the second playoff hole, again at the 18th, Curtis flared his tee shot into a near-impossible position, blocked by the big trees on the right and asking (but not receiving) relief from the flags fluttering above the putting green.

He hit an astonishing blind pitch there, getting it to trickle on to the green and run down to a spot eight metres from the flag. “I hit it up there and heard a few claps and thought ‘must be all right’,” he said later.

Meanwhile Hoath had his own issues; a dreadful piece of luck. His tee ball stopped in a strip of grass a few centimetres from the right greenside trap, and he had to climb up the face of the bunker to hit his shot. He duffed it back into the bunker and of course, it went into his footmarks. “Stuff happens,” the Queenslander would say later, rather ruefully.

He made bogey but there was more drama to come. Curtis now had two putts down the hill to win the title, but his first putt, meant to lag down, stopped three metres short. The next one, again for the win, missed as well. “I got a bit tentative on it,’’ he said. “All day I didn’t think I was going to be in this position then all of a sudden I’ve got 25 feet and two putts for the win. Obviously I took three putts!”

Both men had bogeyed one of the easiest par-fours on the course and back to the tee they went for a third playoff hole.

This time, it was somewhat anti-climactic. Hoath blew his drive right into the trees, not far from where Curtis hit his miracle shot earlier. Curtis drove it to the front fringe, an ideal spot. Hoath had a horrid pitch to the green, having to keep it under the branches, and he punched it across the putting surface and into long grass. He would make another bogey, and Curtis got up-and-down from the front fringe for the win.

“I’ve always been playing bigger events and having a good week would be a top 10,’’ he said. “This week, I’ve played the course enough to know how to play it. Hopefully this leads on to bigger and better things.

“The only event I’ve ever won was the Rossdale (Ivo) Whitton event last year, which was held on the Sunday of the Riversdale Cup. I missed the cut got a late entry at Rossdale and won that. This is the first time I’ve experienced the pressure of trying to close it out. Hopefully I’m better for it.”

As for the teenage wunderkind Wong, she started out with a six-shot lead and was never really threatened, closing with an even-par 73. She had moments of anxiety, including a bogey at the par-four second, but she was mostly nerveless. “The first tee I was a bit (nervous),’’ she said later. “But progressing, it wasn’t too bad. I was asking my friend, ‘how many (shots)’? Four (shots) was the closest.”

Wong has made a habit of dominating events; she won the Vic Junior Open by 13 recently. “This is one my biggest wins,” she said later. “My putting was really on point this few weeks. My approaches have been accurate, and that makes my putts easier.”

She finished nine-under overall, while Kirsten Rudgeley of Western Australia ended up at three-under par to be runner-up.

The big question surrounds the future of Wong, who emigrated with her family from Malaysia in 2015. She lives in Melbourne, attends St Catherine’s school, her grandparents are permanent residents in Australia and she plays out of Metropolitan Golf Club, but she cannot be in any elite junior programs because of her citizenship.

Her father Kenneth said recently that she would take up residency, but she has represented Malaysia at junior level. “We’re still in the progress,” she said. “We’re talking to Stacey (Peters, Golf Australia’s Female Pathway Manager) about it.’’

Eastwood Golf Club's Warren Sutton won the inaugural All Abilities Riversdale Cup by five shots.

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