November 2024 – Murray Downs Golf Resort

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HAYES: Golf’s Fairways Will Always Be My Field Of Dreams

When I first was sent by my editor to “cover” a big golf tournament, I barely slept for nights beforehand.

I knew of a few of the blokes from watching Sandy and Jack on the telly, but I didn’t know their stories; nor did I understand at the time how to elicit them into the public sphere.

As it turned out (with my eternal gratitude to Kathie Shearer), I quickly learnt that a golf course of professionals was THE most verdant journalistic field imaginable – lush and ready for harvest.

Because if you took away Norman and Elkington at that time, or Scott and Smith of the current crop, there always seems about 120 blokes itching to tell you of their travails, their hardships, their dreams, their nightmares; even, occasionally, their brilliance.

And by and large, the stories are all unknown to all bar their nearest and dearest.

This Play Today New South Wales Open should be on the curriculum for all aspiring journalists.

I’m not saying – especially including this piece – that there are Walkleys to be won with every new document created; but if you’re having a crack, you cannot help but find something you’d gladly talk about at the pub with your mates at day’s end.

And after all, that’s precisely what good stories should make you want to do.

McKinney Connor 20230317 NSW Open Rd1 DR 1499
Connor McKinney and his record – equalling scorecard. Sydneysider Nathan Barbieri Bettered the mark just a few hours later.

So today at Rich River, I delighted in catching up with Connor McKinney, a Scottish-born West Australian with a great sense of humour whom I had the good fortune to meet about six years back when he weighed about as much as his driver.

He developed into a world-class amateur, winning the Aussie Amateur, the Links Trophy at St Andrews and playing for the International team at the Junior Presidents Cup.

All along he’s been growing up and wiser, but he still could do part-time work as a pull-through for a rifle; a chip not lost on him when one of the first things he said to me was I “just can’t find enough steaks” to throw on a few kilos.

He went on and – briefly at least – shared the course record with an eight-under-par 63 as he seeks the professional win that will no doubt open even greener pastures.

McKinney matched the earlier 63s of Kade McBride and his good mate and fellow Queenslander Jake McLeod, who only too readily shared their secret weapon this week – a daily McFlurry from a nearby fast-food chain.

McLeod was brilliant to watch today, even more amazing when he revealed after his round that he’s been playing on daily anti-inflammatories throughout the summer and is awaiting a post-season break to heal a rib injury that can be “extremely sore” if he swings on the wrong plane.

He also spoke candidly about his own personal battles when “locked up” in hotel rooms through much of his 2020 and 2021 European Tour campaigns because of Covid restrictions.

McLeod’s not one for histrionics, but you could see the tear well in his eye as he recalled some of the darker moments, then the joys of this year being nearby when his sister Aishling gave birth to young Nick, a “little legend”, or being able to go to the weddings of some close mates for the first time since he turned pro seven years back.

There are people vying to keep their careers alive; there are those pressing for Order Of Merit honours to press their case for European cards; there are those who know the chase for the Kel Nagle Trophy could be the highlight of their golfing careers.

And with only the rarest of exceptions, they’re all only too happy to stop and chat you through the stories on their minds.

I needn’t have worried back in the day, and certainly not now.

Golf was, is and will always be a haven for those who love a yarn.

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