Connor McKinney did it the hard way and Fiona Xu was in cruise control, nevertheless they have both joined a prestigious list of names who proudly call themselves Australian Amateur champions.
New Zealander Xu had little interest in theatrics as she went wire-to-wire, while West Australian McKinney won by holing a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole that had the crowd at Cranbourne Golf Club, and himself, in raptures.
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McKinney could not be separated from South Australian Jack Buchanan and New Zealander James Hydes at ten-under after 72 holes and it looked likely that he had let his chance at victory slip on his first time on the 18th green for the day.
The 20-year-old – who calls Joondalup Golf Club home after his family moved to Australia from Fyfe in Scotland when he was 13 – had the chance to enter the lead on his 72nd hole of the tournament but he was unable to grasp it. His chip from the back of the green looked in for all money before his par putt lipped out.
He was left to agonisingly watch his rivals come in and then he had to immediately pick himself up and implement his learnings from that previous hole.
“I was a little flat but I knew there was a good chance I would get into a playoff. You’ve got to regroup and move forward,” he said.
“I went to the practice green, hit a few putts and put some music on. It was pretty relaxed.”
— GolfWA⛳️ (@GolfWestAust) April 1, 2022
Heading to the 18th tee, he decided on a different approach. He opted for 3-wood off the tee after his drive on the previous occasion had run through the fairway and into the rough.
It proved to be a wise choice as he found the fairway and then hit the green when his rivals missed.
The biggest test of all was next however, the putt for the win.
“I had a shorter and similar putt in regulation which I missed but I knew the line the second time around even though I was a bit further. I was pretty confident with it and it dropped,” McKinney recalled of his walk-off victory securing putt.
McKinney’s confidence was also riding high after he secured a maiden win at the South Australian Amateur Classic.
“The floodgates have opened. I’m pretty confident on course at the moment and I can just let loose,” he said.
Nerves of steel from the young man!!!! https://t.co/mZHoA4ngsT
— GolfWA⛳️ (@GolfWestAust) April 1, 2022
Xu is also brimming with confidence as she stands over every shot despite her softly spoken and shy demeanour.
The 17-year-old showed that she is a force to be reckoned with by stringing together rounds of 68, 65, 73 and 71 to finish 11-under par for the tournament.
She was in control for four days and the final round was no different as she stayed composed in the face of strong winds – that pushed scores higher across the whole field – to become the first New Zealander to win the Australian Amateur crown since her idol Lydia Ko in 2012.
“It’s a huge honour to win this tournament like Lydia Ko did. I am very honoured,” Xu said.
“The conditions weren’t too bad on the first nine. I was able to get a few birdies but the second nine was a bit tough. The wind was very strong but I was able to stay calm.”
The victory adds to her already impressive resume that boasts New Zealand Amateur and New Zealand U16 titles as well as runner-up finishes at the Rene Erichsen Salver and the Riversdale Cup in the lead up to this week.
She now returns home, but first she has some celebrations in mind.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my family but before I go home I’ll be going shopping,” she said with a laugh.
She may even have to check extra baggage on the home to fit in her latest piece of silverware and her shopping.
“I’ve got some space in my suitcase still available,” she again said with a laugh.
Queenslander Justice Bosio finished three shots back from Xu at eight-under par in an impressive effort from the teen star, and third place was shared by Victorian Keeley Marx and New South Wales’ Kelsey Bennett at two-under.
McKinney and Xu also become the first Australian Amateur winners in history to take home a cheque following changes to the R&A’s rules on amateur prize money. The pair each pocketed $1,350 for their efforts.