30 Oct 2023 | Amateur golf |
AAC: How Stubbs lived the dream
by Martin Blake
Jasper Stubbs hit the very first tee shot from the No. 1 tee at Royal Melbourne Composite in the Asia-Pacific Amateur last Thursday, and as he and his caddie Simon Clarke walked up the fairway, his veteran bagman made a comment that turned out to be incredibly prescient.
“He (Clarke) said that it would be pretty awesome to have the first shot and the last putt on Sunday,” said Stubbs on Sunday night, after he completed the greatest win of his short career, one that sends him into two professional majors in 2024 including dream starts at the Masters and the Open Championship.
That Clarke could have put that notion in his head says much about a professional caddie with great knowledge of Royal Melbourne and an amateur degree in sports psychology.
Stubbs, 21, who plays out of Peninsula Kingswood Country Club completed his victory at the second playoff hole late on Sunday with a tap-in putt for par from a few inches at RMGC’s tough 18th.
He’d been heroic to that point, with a closing 69, a back nine of 33 shots and brilliant birdie on the first playoff hole against two outstanding Chinese players.
The final putt was a formality, but it prompted huge celebrations on the green with his 12 teammates spraying champagne.
Two-over for the round through six holes, he was seven shots behind China’s Yunhe 'Sampson' Zheng, who’d led by four shots through 54 holes but who was on his way to a 75 that cost him the championship.
But back at the VIS and all through the Golf Australia programs of which he is still a part, country boy Stubbs was known as a dogged competitor. He’d moved from Bairnsdale in Gippsland with the family when he was 12 to get himself closer to the action.
When Covid came, and elite golfers had the game taken away from them because they could not travel, Stubbs still kept turning up for his gym sessions and grinding as they waited for the world to find its normality.
In 2022, he won the New Zealand Amateur, his biggest victory to that point.
But in some ways, he was overshadowed by others possibly including his sister Piper, a Royal Melbourne club champion who also was in the Golf Australia programs and who now is on a golf scholarship in America.
Jasper Stubbs had a beautiful motion but was not regarded as being the most talented player in the elite programs. Nobody underestimated his ability to fight, but when Australia sent a three-man team to the World Amateur in the Middle East last week, he was not one of them.
On Sunday, he never quit.
Still two back of Zheng at the par-5 17th, he duck-hooked his iron shot into a trap left of the green, leaving himself a 40-metre bunker shot, but somehow he got up and down for birdie. Now he was one back.
Zheng, playing in the final group, then messed up the 17th, finding the cross bunkers and making bogey and by the time Stubbs hit his 9-iron shot on to the left side of the 18th green, he had a share of the lead with Zheng and Wenyi Ding of China
He two-putted for par, holing out from a metre to match Ding, and they waited for Zheng to come up 18, having posted 1-over par overall.
Royal Melbourne had played extremely tough, not even yielding red numbers to a single player in the field.
Three times Stubbs played the 18th on Sunday, all 405 metres of it straight into the southern wind. After his par in regulation, he made a stunning birdie putt from 15 feet at the first playoff hole complete with fist pumping celebration.
But it still wasn’t over. From four metres on a similar line, Ding made his putt too. They were the only two birdies at that hole all day.
“I thought I had him there, but he holed it on top of me,” said Stubbs.
Zheng was eliminated, and Stubbs and Ding went back to the 18th tee. Once again, Stubbs was flawless, finding the fairway, then short iron to the left side of the green, 40 feet from the cup but safe enough.
Royal Melbourne knowledge was crucial here, for the pin was cut right and the bunkers on that side were a no-go. Ding flared his iron shot in there, and after Stubbs rolled his long left-to-righter for birdie up close, the Chinese player could not get up-and-down from a bad lie in the trap.
Stubbs lives nearby in Hiatt, and has played the courses a lot.
“I have a lot of mates at the back (of the green) who are members,” said Stubbs. “I've got one who is a member here and I've been playing with him here since I was 14 or 15, so the best part of six or seven years. My sister, as well, women's club champ here like I said earlier in the week. So I get out here a lot. I knew I had a good strategy for the week, and yeah, just all come together as well.”
Stubbs earns a place in the fields for the 2024 Masters, the Open Championship and the R&A Amateur Championship in Ireland next year as a result.
No wonder his teammates were excited.
“I thought they were going to get me in the bunker for a second there. They kept pushing me, my feet weren't on the ground for a lot of it. I was trying to tell them to stop because we were getting close to that bunker. But no, I really enjoyed that and I really thank the lads for doing that. I still smell a bit like champagne, too!”
He plans on defending his NZ Amateur this week, and he’ll be headed to America as soon as possible for a tee time at Augusta National. That’s in April, 2024.
Jasper Stubbs, your time is now.
Join our newsletter
Get weekly updates on news, golf tips and access to partner promotions.