09 Mar 2021 | Professional golf | Feature stories |

CLAYTON: Elvis only needs a stage

by Mike Clayton

Elvis Smylie has two top-three finishes in the recent TPS events, the second his first tournament as a professional. Picture: PGA of AUSTRALIA
Elvis Smylie has two top-three finishes in the recent TPS events, the second his first tournament as a professional. Picture: PGA of AUSTRALIA

A few holes into the back nine of the windy opening round at Rosebud’s Player’s Series a few weeks ago, Elvis Smylie was battling everything on his way to being six over par after 14 holes.

Geoff Ogilvy, seven under par at the same time, walked past me and said: “This will be good for him.”

It was.

Elvis made a couple of birdies coming in and 75 gave him at least a shot at making the halfway cut.

From the ninth tee the following day, the 18-year-old made six birdies to squeak into the weekend by two and then shot a pair of 63s to finish just a shot adrift of Japan Tour veteran Brad Kennedy as runner-up.

It was some sort of signal he was at least good enough to compete as a pro in Australia and his professional debut last week at Bonnie Doon was the most interesting early-week story.

He started off on the 10th – one of the more difficult holes – with a perfectly played birdie, but at the driveable 12th he flat-hooked a driver into a small bush, took an unplayable lie penalty and followed it with a whiffed 40m pitch.

The double-bogey was the end the day’s mistakes and four birdies from then on afforded him a three-under-par 68.

Another 67 on Friday was good and when he birdied the par-3 13th on Saturday to get to four under, 65 was hardly unrealistic.

Instead, he repeated the ugly, low hook, this time on to the adjacent – and out-of-bounds – practice fairway and made an eight on the par five.

Three putts at the next further darkened the mood and, in the end, he had to birdie two of the last three holes for a 69.

It was the finish of his winning chances, because you can’t make those big mistakes and hope to win any tournament because someone else is sure to be playing just as well and avoiding them.

Sunday was a mad rush trying to make up for those thrown away shots and only one missed green and six birdies had him around in 65. It was a great score, but one paling into insignificance as Andy Martin made three of his four eagles for the day consecutively from the seventh to finish in 61.

Elvis, in the end, was tied third – a tremendous follow-up to his second at Rosebud and most kids don’t make upwards of seven thousand dollars in their first event as a pro.

Unless you’re one of the Australians playing on the tours in the United States, life these days for a “touring” professional is one of hoping Japan, Asia and Europe open up and players including Kennedy, Matt Griffin, Jake McLeod, Zach Murray and the remarkable Peter Fowler, who made the cut at age 61, can get back to work. Even if, in Fowler’s case, it’s the seniors’ tour.

I’ve caddied for Elvis a few times now, the first at the 2019 Australian Open.

At The Australian he was paired with Masters champion Mike Weir and Rod Pampling and after two days he was three off the lead after opening with 70-67.

Winning was a preposterous thought for a then 17-year-old, but put him in the same position now and it’d be a different story.

I’m not saying he would win.

But as well as he plays and as much as he has improved, he’d have a decent shot at it.

It’s interesting to caddie and watch different players. The best ones just hit the ball differently.

Seve did, Norman did and Langer did with his irons. Adam Scott, Jason Day and Ogilvy, too, then Tiger, of course, as well as Brooks Koepka.

In this era, the driver is the easiest club – as opposed to the hardest in the era of persimmon heads, steel shafts and balata golf balls – to use and they all seem to bomb it miles, almost to the point where it’s little more than a “party trick”.

There are, however, 13 other clubs in each bag and Elvis stands out from most because he is such a beautiful iron player and one of the best chippers and pitches of the ball I’ve seen.

And he will improve.

His natural shape is a draw and his right to left shot – the lefty’s fade – isn’t as easy for him to hit, making him more likely to birdie the holes where the pin is in the right side of the green.

Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan were masters of every flight and shape and to be one of the very best players in the world, a requirement is to move the ball both ways – even if one way is with ease and the other with only competence.

Elvis’ next outings are at this week’s Isuzu Queensland Open at Pelican Waters and the NSW Open at Concord a couple of weeks later.

From there he relies on invitations to play in Europe and the opportunity to make enough prizemoney to earn some playing status and a job for the following year.

It’s never easy making all you need in barely more than a handful of tournaments, but his summer form has clearly shown he’s good enough.

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