By Neal Maidment
Erina Tan made a successful title defence while dark horse Nate Johnson made a major breakthrough at the Drummond Golf Junior Amateur Championships of WA.
Wanneroo GC hosted this year’s championship, with the closing round producing some scintillating golf played out in glorious winter sunshine.
Mount Lawley’s Tan, aged 17, had a tough start to the championship, recording a treble-bogey seven at the first on day one. For a lesser player, this could have had a ruinous effect on their chances, but Tan is a steely competitor and played the rest of her round in one-under-par par to stay in contention.
Two bogeys in the opening three holes of round two left Tan facing an uphill struggle to retain her crown, but she reeled off five birdies in the next eight holes to move into the lead and finished off with two more in a -4 round of 69.
It was enough to grant Tan a four-stroke win over clubmate Isabella Leniartek at -2 for the championship, with Ruby Cotton’s excellent 71 elevating her into a tie for third with overnight leader Valerie Khuu a further six shots back.
“It was a great day on the greens,” Tan told GolfWA. “I started slowly but I didn’t get down on myself and my short game and putting was my saviour today.”
With Tan nearing the end of her junior career, the win had additional significance. “I’m very happy because this is my last Junior Am and it means a lot to be able to defend the title.”
Johnson realises potential
Not many would have tipped Joondalup Country Club’s Nate Johnson as a title contender here, but a strong showing at the previous week’s Cobra Puma Junior Championship hinted at his potential, which was fully realised at Wanneroo.
Leading overnight after a fine 71 on day one, Johnson was partnered with junior heavyweights Josiah Edwards, Ollie Marsh and George Barclay on the final day. The 14-year-old leftie showed no signs of being overawed, however, and a thrilling confrontation between himself and Edwards played out.
Gosnells’ Edwards drew level with Johnson at -1 for the championship after a birdie at the 10th and the two matched each other shot for shot over the next six holes.
Crucially, Johnson was able to retain a share of the lead with a long birdie putt on 16. While Edwards matched the feat, his disappointment at a missed eagle putt appeared to affect his focus. An errant drive and short approach on 17 ultimately cost Edwards a double bogey, while Johnson showed great composure to make a rock-solid par and open up a two-shot lead.
Another steely par at the last secured Johnson a three-stroke win over Edwards, with Joondalup’s Barclay and WAGC’s Bailey Pilapil – runner-up at last week’s Cobra Puma – sharing third a two shots further adrift.
For Johnson, the win highlights him as a player to watch in the coming months. He only recently switched his focus to golf from soccer after a cruciate ligament injury but believes he has what it takes to succeed at elite level.
“I’m so happy to win,” he told GolfWA. “I just tried to keep cool out there and not think too much about the position I was in, or let the bad shots affect me.
“There was a lot of adrenaline pumping on 17 and 18 but I decided to play things safe off the tee and hit some really good irons into the greens.”
On the back of the Drummond Golf Junior Amateur, Johnson and Valerie Khuu will be invited to represent GolfWA at September’s Jack Newton Junior Classic in NSW. Cobra Puma champions Isabella Leniartek and Ollie Marsh have already received exemptions into the event.
As well as finishing as runner-up here, Leniartek topped the Sub-Junior standings in the girls’ contest, with Royal Perth’s Spencer Harrison taking out the boys’ equivalent after rounds of 76 and 74.
Our thanks to all at Wanneroo GC for hosting the event and presenting the course in such fine condition.