Young West Australian and Golf Australian National Squad member, Rick Kulacz, has become the first amateur in 31 years to win the Proton New South Wales Open.
The 20-year-old burnt up Moore Park Golf Course with a slick five-under-par 65 before beating fellow West Aussie Tony McFadyean at the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.
The pair finished atop the leaderboard at 10-under par before McFadyean three-putted the first hole of sudden-death to leave the way clear for Kulacz to hole a tricky putt for par for the title.
“I was actually still nervous over that first putt but was relieved to see it go in,” Kulacz said.
“I felt for Tony because you don’t like to lose a tournament that way. But then again he has a cheque for 18 grand in his back pocket, so that softens the blows a bit.”
Kulacz was referring to the fact McFadyean still got to take home the first prize cheque while he would have the honour of accepting the trophy as the first-ever winner of a Von Nida Tour event since that Tour’s inception four years ago.
Peter Knight, National Elite Development Director, Golf Australia stated, “This is just great for Rick and what a victory. As a Golf Australia National Squad member Rick also takes the honour of being the first amateur to win a Von Nida Tour event. It’s so exciting to see more and more elite amateurs coming through and winning events. The team at Golf Australia congratulate Rick and wish him all the success for the 2006 MFS Australian Open.”
The last amateur to win the NSW Open was the man many refer to as our greatest ever amateur, Sydney’s Tony Gresham, who edged out Billy Dunk to win it at Manly in 1975. Another top amateur Owen Beldham also won it at Newcastle in 1972.
“That’s pretty good company to be in and even looking at the names on the trophy – names like Nagle, Newton, Norman and Baker-Finch, well, I’m just stoked,” Kulacz said.
“At the start of the day I thought I might have a chance. I was four behind at that stage,” he said. I knew I would also need a little bit of help from the leaders backing up. I got away to a good start but really didn’t have a clue how close to the lead I was until we got to the 17th hole.”
Kulacz, who is a member of the Golf Australian National Squad, stayed with another former gun amateur Ewan Porter this week and was looking forward to heading to Northies night club to celebrate his success.
“He’s been at me all week to go there, now I have a good reason to,” he said. I had a win in Canberra a couple of weeks ago in the Federal Open and that gave me a bit of self belief and probably was the reason I got a start here. I hit it a bit straighter off the tee this week and holed a few good putts in that four to eight foot range. That really helped.”
Rookie professional Mitchell Brown was left ruing what might have been as he bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall out of a three-way tie for the lead with McFadyean and Kulacz.
A wayward tee shot cost Brown dearly when he blocked his tee shot right and was forced to chip out to the fairway, leaving a difficult up-and-down for par to get into the playoff.
Brown’s third shot came up well short and although he hit a lovely putt up the ridge to about a metre, he was forced to settle for a bogey which dropped him back to nine-under-par and into a tie for third with Tasmanian Robin Hodgetts.
Brown only turned professional two days before the tournament and although disappointed with his finish will be keen to take that form into the coming weeks. Three players, Anthony Painter (NSW), Ben Bunny (Vic) and Aaron Townsend (NSW) tied for fifth at eight-under-par.
Aside from Kulacz, the other best rounds of the day were 65’s from Victorian Michael Foster, which secured him a top-10 finish as well as Painter, who undid a lot of his good work with a bogey five at the last.
Leading final scores:
270 (-10) Rick Kulacz* (am) (WA) 67-71-67-65;
270 (-10) Tony McFadyean (WA) 68-69-65-68;
* Kulacz won at 1st hole of sudden-death playoff
271 (-9) Mitchell Brown (NSW) 69-66-66-70;
271 (-9) Robin Hodgetts (Tas) 69-70-66-66;
272 (-8) Anthony Painter (NSW) 69-68-70-65;
272 (-8) Aaron Townsend (NSW) 68-70-65-69; 272 (-8) Ben Bunny (Vic) 66-70-66-70