16 Jan 2024 | Amateur golf |

#AusAm: Three Aussies shine on day one

by Martin Blake

Kai Komulainen Aus Amateur image
Kai Komulainen charges to a 64 at Yarra today. Photo: Tim Pollock

Three talented young Australians made their mark on the first day of the adidas Australian Amateur today while the familiar sight of a Japanese flag at the top of the women’s leaderboard gave a sense of déjà vu.

Queensland’s Kai Komulainen, an 18-year-old in his first year of playing open-age competition, had his own moment of turning back the clock by seizing the lead in the men’s amateur with a stunning, 6-under par 64 at Yarra Yarra Golf Club in tricky, hot conditions and a fierce northerly.

The young man from Emerald Lakes Golf Club on the Gold Coast led through one round of the Amateur in Sydney this time last year before dropping outside the top 20 through the week.

While Japan’s Aina Fujimoto shot 4-under 69 at Keysborough Golf Club to lead the women’s amateur today, Victorian teenager Jazy Roberts carded a 3-under 70 nearby at Yarra Yarra and was joined in a tie for second by 15-year-old Melburnian Amelia Harris, just a shot back.

All three – Komulainen, Roberts and Harris – are ensconced in elite High Performance programs and tipped for great things.

Komulainen is a shot ahead of New Zealander Mitchell Kale (5-under 67 at Keysborough with a bogey-free round) and another shot ahead of American Noah Kent (68 at Keysborough).

Of the fancied Australian men, Yarra Yarra local Phoenix Campbell opened with 1-under 69 and Jasper Stubbs, playing at Keysborough, struggled to an opening 77.

Komulainen had a 7:39am tee-off at Yarra Yarra where a fierce overnight storm had left pools of water on low parts of the course and flooded many of the bunkers.

But the wind was down for the first part of his round, and he capitalised on it nicely with six birdies, two bogeys and an eagle at the short par-4 fifth hole, where he drove the green.

“It was tougher than I expected,” he said. “The wind wasn’t supposed to be that strong, so I was surprised when it started to pick up.”

The Queenslander is feeling his way at this level having competed in a few professional events over the last year.

“I felt like the small fish in the big pond back then, but I really do feel like I belong in these fields. If I play well I can compete with these guys.”

Komulainen was a prolific junior winner including multiple state boys championships, but his future is in the United States, where he heads in August to take up a college scholarship.

Meanwhile Harris’ performance in the women’s as a 15-year-old – she is about to enter year 11 at Mackinnon High School in Melbourne’s south-east – is remarkable but at the same time predictable because she has been earning rave reviews for some time now, a prolific winner of junior tournaments.

Playing her home course, she made three consecutive birdies between 7 and 9 and then two more on the trot at the 16th and 17th, where she bombed a drive to throwing distance from the green and wedged in close.

At that point she had joined the lead at 4-under before an untimely mistake at the last. “Oh yeah, but then I three-putted,” she said of her bogey at No. 18 which sent her back to second place.

Although she will be across at Keysborough on Wednesday, the tournament returns to her home course at Yarra Yarra later in the week, and it is a bonus for her. “It’s really helpful because I know where I can use driver and which way the greens slope,” she said.

As for 18-year-old Roberts, from the provincial city of Bendigo, she came in with no expectations and plotted her way around Yarra Yarra, the course playing tougher than expected.

Soon to represent Australia at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific event in Thailand, it is no surprise to see her contending; she finished top-15 in the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in December and won the amateur women’s section of the Sandbelt Invitational as well.

“It was really tricky out there with the wind,” said Roberts. “When it was into (the wind) the holes were so long and I managed to get away with par on those holes,” she said.

Japan inevitably sends world class amateurs down to Australia including the women's winner in 2023, and Aina Fujimoto’s opening 4-under 69 at Keysborough put her on top of the women’s field.

The 16-year-old Fujimoto was tied-sixth in the Master of the Amateurs in Melbourne last weekend.

“Today is a good feeling,” she said. “I had momentum from last week to this week.”

She is a shot ahead of Harris, Roberts, Master of the Amateurs winner Rianne Malixi and another Japanese player, Momika Shinchi.

The players alternate courses on Wednesday for the second round before a cut is made and they all head back to Yarra Yarra for rounds three and four. First tee times are at 7:30am and entry is free.

SCORING Men’s -6 Kai Komulainen (YY) -5 Mitchell Kale (NZ) (K) -4 Noah Kent (USA) (K) Women’s -4 Aina Fujimoto (Japan) (K) -3 Mamika Shinchi (Japan) (K) Jazy Roberts (YY) Amelia Harris (YY) Rianne Malixi (Philippines) (K)

Amelia Harris Aus Amateur image
Fifteen-year-old Amelia Harris tees off at 11 on her way to contending. Photo: Tim Pollock

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