Mandurah’s Braden Becker raised hopes of a home state win in the Nexus Advisernet WA Open today with a second, straight brilliant round of 66 at Royal Fremantle that sends him into the weekend with the outright lead.
Becker, 29, has never won a tournament on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia but with strong knowledge of the course, crowd support in Perth and relentless consistency, he has given himself the best chance yet.
He completed two rounds without a single bogey today and rolled in six birdies, narrowly missing another from inside two metres at the ninth hole, his 18th of the day, to finish at 12-under par overall.
He is a shot ahead of boom Sydney amateur Jeffrey Guan at 11-under. The 17-year-old Australian Junior champion Guan had bogeys at his last two holes to post a 67 to go with his opening 66, and remains a chance to pull off a momentous victory in one of his first starts in a pro tournament.
New South Wales pro Nathan Barbieri is next-closest at nine-under overall, three shots from the lead entering the weekend. Another pair of Sydneysiders, James Grierson and Austin Bautista, are at eight-under, four shots from the lead.
Meanwhile the laid-back Becker had his girlfriend on course on Thursday and his brother today, and he relished the chance to play close to home, scarcely missing a fairway or green and spinning an approach back to tap-in range at the par-4 fourth hole. “Even though it’s not your home course, to have your home members meet you out on the course it’s nice to see,” he said. “All the text messages you get ‘well played, keep going’, that sort of stuff, and they actually rock up and show you what they really mean.”
The man who sometimes works in the shop at Mandurah Country Club said he planned on extending his bogey-free run beyond the current 36 holes. “I’m going to keep it that way as long as I can. The course is just set up so nicely, if you keep it in play, like even if you put yourself out of position, the greens are so true if you hit a good pitch shot, get yourself somewhat close, you’ve always got a chance of making the putt to save the par. I’ve had to save a couple so far already, but I’ve managed to roll them in, which is good.”
Guan was sensational again, bolting to a five-shot lead in his morning round on the back nine before he gave back shots at the eighth, where his flared tee shot to the par-3 came to rest with mud on the ball, and at the par-4 ninth where he three-putted from long range. A highlight was his hole-out bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 11th hole. “That really got me going,” he said. “I wasn’t hitting it that great off 10 and 11, those first couple of shots weren’t great, but I was very happy about that.”
The Golf NSW high performance star, who plays out of The Australian and is coached by Matt Jones’ mentor Gary Barter, is the son of a Chinese immigrant father who drives an Uber. He has had rave reviews for some years now, winning the past two Australian Junior championships, and he is justifying the high praise with some brilliant golf. He won a start at Golf WA’s invitation by finishing runner-up in the 2021 Australian Amateur, and now he is mixing it with some established pros while he tries to keep track of his homework.
“It feels really exciting,” said the Sydney teen, who is studying year 12. “I’ve never been in that position before, especially on the pro tour. I’m looking forward to the weekend.’’
Becker plans on playing a shot at a time, and not thinking too much about the leaderboard this weekend.
“It’s the place we always want to play yourself into,” he said. “I’ve been playing really well generally, and it’s been really good and I need to keep plodding along. I’m definitely not getting ahead of myself when it comes to the scores. I’ve been in this position enough times, and I keep not throwing in a bad round, just a couple of shots here and there slip away and end up not scoring as well as I’m playing. Golf tournaments are four rounds each; not three or two.”
He will be joined in the final group by Guan, who also promised a pragmatic approach. “I just play my own game. If that (winning) is where it ends up, I’d definitely take it.”
Tomorrow’s third round also features the first round of the WA All Abilities Championship.
Entry is free.