Concord Golf Club, 21 – 27 March 2022

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Limelight beckons would-be stars

Limelight beckons would-be stars

There is nobody on the Golf Challenge NSW Open leaderboard who doesn’t deserve to be there.

Golf at this level doesn’t work that way.

But with so many avenues to the largest event on this season’s ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia schedule, it’s inevitable that some will appear as more likely winners than others.

Good amateur careers, peaks in form, local hero, national reputation – there are myriad reasons why some players carry bigger wraps.

But that should never diminish the hopes of the “others”, because it certainly – and rightly – hasn’t dawned on them that they don’t belong.

Justin Warren (-10) and Daniel Gale (-7) are two of these inaccurately branded “lesser lights” as we head into what shapes as a fascinating weekend at Concord.

Both proud New South Welshmen, they have by their own admission, flown under the public radar – even on home soil.

Warren, 25, essentially fell from the public eye when he went to the University of Arkansas on scholarship.

The Picton product, who earned his first home state Open start at the tender age of 17, was also good enough to push future Australian Open champ and PGA Tour star Cam Davis to extra holes in the semi-final of the 2015 Australian Amateur Championship.

But since his studies finished and he turned pro in 2019, his opportunities have – just as many others – been severely limited.

Yet keen form students would note a fifth place at last year’s NT PGA, a T5 result at the Vic PGA last month and a second place at the Moonah Classic the following week.

But the single result that defines Warren’s fledgling career to date comes at this very tournament at its previous staging at Twin Creeks.

Warren came to the final hole needing a par to reach a playoff; what followed as he pressed for a birdie to win resulted in a double-bogey that has driven his subsequent improvement to the point of a 64 today that has him poised again, sharing third and trailing only Michael Sim.

“I played phenomenal golf for 71 and a half holes,” Warren recalled.

“I really didn’t miss a shot for four days until the last hole when I tried to bite off more than I could chew. Just the temptation of knowing that if I birdie the last hole I could win the golf tournament and it got me a little bit too excited and amped up to do that.

“When you’re in those situations you need to be a little smarter and identify that it’s a shot you can’t take on. Hitting it to the middle of the green and trying to hole a longer putt is better than hitting it into the water.”

But Warren is adamant that much has changed, even if it has been out of public sight.

A lot will depend on the situation, naturally, like how I’m feeling, the scores, the conditions, he said.
“But I’ve matured a lot and my game has gone to another level since the NSW Open last year. It’s hard to know until you’re in that situation, but I certainly feel like I’m going to be a lot more prepared for it when it does happen again.”

Gale, 24, played his junior golf at Castle Hill and looked to have his future half-planned when he saluted as a new professional to win the 2018 Papua New Guinea Open.

He was tied for second at the NT PGA that same year and an extremely creditable T9 at the Australian PGA Championship soon afterwards.

But, like Warren, it’s been slim pickings for a variety of reasons since.

He shared fifth at the recent Gippsland Super 6, but they provided his first world rankings points since 2019.

Yet here he is after a second-round 66, right in the thick of his home state Open at a course he loves and with audible support from a swag of friends and family who’ve made the short trek to Concord to urge him on.

And he definitely is not out of place.

“I’m having a load of fun out there, staying in my own bed. I love this place and I’ve got good memories and all my mates and family supporting bring a smile to my face,” Gale beamed from under the “floppy faded yellow” bucket hat he’s making his trademark.

“When I first turned pro and had a really good rookie year, I probably thought I’d win more … but I didn’t spring on as I thought I might.

“But I haven’t lost that fire … I’m definitely back and trending in the right direction, just all over – mentally and physically.

“My game has been solid for about thre months … I played really well in the regional qualifiers for this tournament and that really boosted my confidence.

“I only had a couple of low rounds, but it was really consistent and I’m just finally stringing a few things together.

“It’s really close.”

So what of the lack of public recognition that’s really not befitting their talents?

Gale said he occasionally thought about it.

“But if I keep putting my name up there, I’ve got to be in the limelight eventually,” he said.

“I’m just hanging under the radar and hopefully I’ll spring out into view here soon.”

Warren was equally unfazed by the lack of fanfare.

“It really doesn’t worry me. There are guys out here who’ve been on international tours for years now and they’re the names of Aussie golf,” Warren said.

“I’ve always flown under the public radar, but I’ve also known that I’ve got the ability to be a really great golfer and even moving into the professional ranks, I’ve had results that really solidify that for me.

“People might not my know my name or where I’m from, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ll let the golf sticks do the talking and hopefully at some point everyone’s going to know who I am.”

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