Darwin fans got a look into the future of Australian golf with 22-year old amateur Travis Smyth dominating the field to win the 2017 Northern Territory PGA Championship – presented by Cazalys Palmerston.
With his coach John Serhan on the bag, Smyth completed his romp to victory with a four-under 67 to finished at 19-under around the Palmerston layout, a commanding six shots ahead of runner-up Deyen Lawson (pictured below right) with Darren Beck alone in third place at 12-under.
“Amazing, lost for words,” Smyth said, “We work so hard to get here, then to get into contention and to go on and blitz the field makes me so much more confident about my future.”
Smyth’s immediate future is dominated by the opportunity to earn a place at The Masters if he can win the Asia-Pacific Amateur title in New Zealand in October. Either side of that are qualifying stages for the European Tour in Spain.
Should he not win in New Zealand, he’ll immediately join the professional ranks ahead of the Australian summer. Courtesy of this win in the Territory, he now has the luxury of knowing he’ll have a place to play next year.
“I don’t have to worry about not having a job next year. I should be able to come back and play the Australian Open and PGA now so if I don’t happen to win the Asian Amateur, I’m not going to be too worried as I have some good things ahead of me,”
“It’s a massive stress relief.”
Smyth emulated his friend and fellow Wollongong product Jordan Zunic in completing a wire-to-wire victory at Palmerston for his first win against the pros on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
“I’m on a high at the moment. I went to the UK and played well at the British Amateur, then I went to the U.S. and played awesome at the Porter Cup and came top-five there, then the U.S. Am and now this.”
Smyth, in fact, has Zunic to thank for influencing a shift in his intended game plan after the pair played a practice round together on Tuesday – a point Zunic ribbed him about after the presentation ceremony.
“I stuck to my game plan all week, hit it in the right spots to give me full shots from the fairways. My wedge game was solid, I think that’s what won it for me this week, my wedge game and putting,”
Taking a four-stroke lead into the final day, Smyth replicated his start from Saturday with birdies on the opening two holes. The birdie at the par-five second was especially impressive after Smyth had to punch out from trees before hitting an approach to within 2 metres of the hole.
With Zunic and also playing partner Beck having also made fast starts, it was key moment in the context of the victory. Had his tee shot rolled a few inches to the right, he’d have been pitching out from behind a ghost gum with bogey being a likely outcome.
With many in the perfect conditions shooting sub-par rounds behind him, it was the outwardly serene Smyth who keep repelling the challenges before really stepping on the gas with birdies on the 8th and 9th to blow out his lead heading in to the back nine.
His second and third bogies of the week at the 13th and 14th barely raised a ripple of concern for Smyth.
“I wasn’t feeling nervous at all but it’s a long week, I was starting to get a bit tired so I wasn’t surprised a couple of bogies snuck in on the back nine.”
“It’s a tricky back nine but I thought with that sort of a lead, I couldn’t screw that up. If I did, I’d be really disappointed in myself.”
Lawson took home the $22,500 first place cheque which he conceded was more than a satisfactory consolation for not winning the title.
“It’s good that if someone was going to beat me that it was an amateur!” Lawson quipped,
“I was pretty happy with how I played, it’s the sort of course where you have to keep it in play and just be patient. I managed to limit the bogies this week so I was pretty happy.”
“It will be interesting to see what he (Smyth) does after this. He’ll be one to look after in the future, that’s for sure.”
Zunic put up a wonderful defence of his title in tying for 4th place and probably entertained thoughts of victory after early birdies. However, a double bogey on the 6th had him behind the eight ball and in catch up mode thereafter.
“I had a very good start but lost a bit of momentum in the middle of the front nine.” he said.
“I tried to make some things happen on the back nine and make as many birdies as I could, I knew Travis was a long way in front but unfortunately, the putts weren’t dropping for me on the back nine.”
“It doesn’t happen every day but I’m pretty happy with my title defence, I played pretty solid this week and had a ball up here again. Hopefully I can come back again next year.”
There were many other good news stories during the Championship: the performance of trainee Frazer Droop was eye catching despite a frustrating final day, Damien Jordan rallied late to finish tied for 4th alongside Zunic and Darren Beck finished strongly after some early back nine stumbles to claim third place, and second place money.
It was an interesting dynamic in the final group with both Smyth and Beck (pictured) being coached by Serhan. Smyth’s manager Trefor Clayton was also acting as Beck’s caddy,
“I was pulling for Becky as I wanted him to get outright second.” Smyth said
“I was giving him fist pumps to try to fire him up as I knew I had first place sewn up. I wanted to see him run second but he gave it a good run and just fell short.”
Cradling the distinctive crocodile skull trophy with dozens of well wishers asking for autographs and pictures, Smyth could appreciate how far he’d come even in the short time since his U.S. Amateur quarter-final run two weeks ago.
Smyth told onlookers at the presentation ceremony that no matter how well he played at Riviera during that tournament, he couldn’t raise a single cheer from the galleries being the lone Aussie against the Americans.
There were many, if not most, in Darwin who didn’t know Travis Smyth’s name at the start of the week. Now it’s a name they won’t forget, nor will he be forgetting this breakthrough week in the Top End any time soon.
“If the schedule permits, I’ll definitely be back if I’m not playing in Europe or America.”
“I feel like you have to. It’s your first professional win, you sort of owe it to the golf tournament and everyone that’s here doing the hard work to get the tournament going.”
“I’ll stay very true to my word there. If I can play, I will.”