Concord Golf Club, 17 – 20 March 2022

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HAYES: The Art Of Winning – Golf’s Ultimate Skill

The mythical “they” can teach you a lot of things as a rising amateur, or even as a young professional.

But the one thing that can’t be taught in golf is arguably the most important, especially when tournaments are at a premium in these crazy days in which we live.

That skill is winning. It sounds simple, but tends to be horribly elusive.

The South Coast Open seemingly offered a chance for some names that aren’t exactly “household” to attend a Moruya finishing school and solve that problem once and for all.

Leading pair Alex Simpson and Peter Martin – accomplished and seasoned pros without having taken that breakthrough step – had allowed the field to concertina together when they each book-ended their opening nines with bogeys on the decisive day two.

But still they seemed positive and were broadly striking the ball well enough to grab the all-important victory.

That Anthony Choat had roared into contention with an outward 32 also gave hope for a new name on an Australian professional trophy.

At that point, New South Wales pair Austin Bautista (65) and Grace Kim (64) blazed briefly into the mix with stellar second rounds that ultimately began too far back to make a material difference.

And the field’s two most prolific names – Andre Stolz and Deyen Lawson – while handy, were still only on the fringe of contention.

But that’s precisely when the lessons, as “they” say, endeth.

Lawson didn’t quite have his A-game packed, yet still managed a second consecutive 67 to “pinch” a second straight runner-up finish in this Regional Qualifying Series after the recent Queanbeyan tournament.

But, Stolz, the man with the biggest resumè on site, certainly knew exactly what to do when even a distant whiff of victory presented itself.

Stolz was typically filthy with himself on the 11th when he missed a birdie try, almost sub-consciously knowing what was building around him.

And when the final two groups crossed through the Showgrounds walk to the 13th tee, the 51-year-old pounced.

He ripped off four birdies on the bounce just when it mattered most to turn the screws on his younger rivals.

And sure enough, they succumbed.

Lawson knew something off the charts was required on the last and dialled in his approach to near gimme range, perhaps hoping that Stolz would blink.

But he didn’t.

Just as in his heyday, the feisty right-hander ripped a wedge to kick-in distance in reply and as the final group melted behind him under the inferred pressure, it was over.

Stolz, arguably, isn’t playing under as much pressure as the younger guys who’ve been hamstrung in terms of playing opportunities throughout the pandemic.

In fact, the vast majority of those at the failed finishing school today have supplementary jobs to finance the extension of their golfing dream.

But despite toting a brand new putter he bought en route to the course; despite having been in hospital for a battery of tests with a suspected heart condition only four months earlier; despite playing through chronic pain in his hip; and despite hitting the ball comfortably shorter than all his rivals, he was too good.

He has won on the US PGA Tour, its secondary branch (then the Nationwide Tour), the Japan Tour, OneAsia, and many times domestically, including the defunct but once highly sought Players Championship. He has also made a habit of winning nationally significant titles such as the Thailand Open, Indonesian PGA, South Pacific Open and, just recently upon his graduation to the “old boys’ tour”, the Australian Senior PGA Championship to name but a few.

You could go back and figure the total income he’s derived from those wins, but not even “they” could tell you the implied worth of knowing you have what it takes when it matters most.

It’s why we need to cheer on potential new winners and give them all the opportunities events such as the Golf NSW Regional Series provide.

It’s also why Australian golf should always keep its champions in the frame when it comes to generation next.

Stolz played his opening round with Kim, who’s busily preparing herself for her first full season in the United States as a professional. She also managed to build an extensive and winning amateur resumè before showing great signs as a young pro in the past few months, including at the recent WPGA Championship.

Whether she ultimately takes his advice or not, Stolz happily shared with Kim his philosophy on what makes a successful touring pro, even it takes a hint of mercenary to achieve her private goals.

These are the lessons of champions.

They’re money-can’t-buy nuggets of mental gold.

Nobody who watched Choat, Simpson and Martin play today doubt they’ve got the foundations of impressive performances – maybe even wins – on the domestic tour.

But until they GENUINELY believe they have what it takes, there’s likely a ceiling on their impact.

And it’s always why “they” tell you never to write off a champion.

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