Concord Golf Club, 17 – 20 March 2022

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HAYES: Mesmerising Millar Simply Magic

HAYES: Mesmerising Millar Simply Magic

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Without cracking out some fancy, high-brow stats, I used to wonder in Tiger Woods’ halcyon era exactly how reporters covered his week-in, week-out magic.

There are, of course, only so many superlatives you can dial up – even for Eldrick.

Now Matt Millar would be the first to scoff at me for making anything that he’s done vaguely comparable to Woods, so please don’t take what I’m about to say in the wrong context.

But Millar has played the three events of this year’s Golf Challenge NSW Open regional qualifying series with just one bogey en route to victory at Murray Downs, three bogeys in his 12th at Dubbo, and now just one double-bogey in his win completed today at Queanbeyan.

Even more amazing is that the only blemishes in his two victories came via three-putts.

This, to state the bleeding obvious, makes him very hard to beat.
It also means that he’s making a disproportionately small number of mistakes and, by extension with his “small ball” style, is missing next to no fairways and only a few greens.

In turn, this makes me have to reach repeatedly for the thesaurus to describe the metronomic magnificence of his game.

So in typically lazy journalist fashion, I asked others to do the hard yards on my behalf.

Joint runner-up at Queanbeyan, Deyen Lawson offered the following basic yet particularly apt summation: “There’s not much unbelievable about Matt Millar’s game, except for the scorecard at the end of the day.”

“He just gets it round. Everyone who plays with him should really observe how he does it.”

Another of today’s runners-up, James Grierson, is also a fan of Millar’s golf, but more so the empathy and interest he has for his younger rivals.

Grierson recalled a tale from the first time he played with the Canberran on a day of wild weather at Coffs Harbour in late 2020.

“I was having a bad day,” Grierson confessed.

“It was my first instance with Matty, and I was a bit nervous, but I walked up to him on about the 15th, and I asked him for any advice he might have.

“He just said to me, `Never, ever, ever give up. Keep doing your routine, keep going about it’.

“I happened to finish birdie-eagle that day, and he came back to me without me asking and said that’s exactly what I needed to do as a pro golfer, `just keep plugging away, keep pluggin away’.

Still, now, every time we chat, he’s always very insightful, encouraging and generous with his advice; he doesn’t tell you what he thinks is best, but just always little things to try to help the younger guys.

“If anybody is doing that while they’re still playing, it’s a great thing and he’s definitely someone I look up to massively, not just on the golf side, but as a person, too.”

Grierson took Millar’s words to heart again today, pushing hard late to seal his own qualification for the NSW Open at Concord in March.

So with the obvious rider of him having been focused internally, I asked Grierson to think back quickly about what made Millar’s round stand out in his mind.

“He never short sided himself, you never looked at him and thought Matty might make a bogey here, because he’s just never in the wrong spot,” he said.

“He’s never above the hole, I never saw him scrambling for par.

“When you watch guys play on TV, a lot of the guys bomb it in the trees , but Matty hits his hybrid as straight as I hit my wedges.

“That’s no slight on him, it just shows how much control he has of his golf ball.”

Millar, for his part, was as humble as ever, even admitting that some of the younger, more powerful units might be “frustrated” watching him play.

I asked him whether he might even have a back-handed advantage by standing on long par-5s without the lure of bombing home in two.

“It is, in a sense I suppose, because I know how I’m going to do it. I’m hitting away from trouble, as long as my execution is there, of course, so yeah, I suppose it takes the disaster out of play.”

Pushed, I got even closer to his not-so-secret recipe for success.
“I could find 20 extra metres (off the tee), but I’d lose a few metres either way sideways trying to find it,” he said.

“I’ve got what I’ve got and I have to play with it. I’ve got a system and I execute the system that works for me.”

That’s it, really.

It’s unique and he knows it works.

Millar has more than 100 wins under his belt at the top and second levels of Australian professional golf – it’s an extraordinary record.

But he’s still desperate for a tier one win on home soil, despite having been the PGA of Australia’s player of the year in 2018.

Which brings to mind next week’s Australian PGA Championship, the pinnacle of the summer of 2021/22 at Royal Queensland, a course that is longer and far wider than the ones he has dominated this summer.

Millar was at pains to point out that despite the absence of some of Australia’s top American-based professionals for pandemic-related reasons, that a top-notch player and score would be required to win in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.

And, he said, there’s no reason it couldn’t be him.

“It’s a really good chance to win the PGA (because) I would say Royal Queensland is better for me than Royal Pines was in 2018 (when Millar finished T3 behind Cam Smith and Marc Leishman).

“I really like Queensland greens, which isn’t true of everyone from the south, and I think you need to approach the greens from the right angles to score well there these days.

“So I’m looking forward to the challenge, it will play pretty strong and I give myself a chance.”

Which only proves that understanding your own game is paramount to winning professional tournaments, but also that winning form provides winning confidence.

And if a 45-year-old who still teaches part-time at Federal Golf Club gets his hands on the Joe Kirkwood Cup next week, we will definitely have to dig to find the superlatives that slipped me by today.

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