Amateurs lead the way

TORCH BEARER: Nick Flanagan was the shining star in an otherwise disappointing year for the Hunter's pros in the US.
TORCH BEARER: Nick Flanagan was the shining star in an otherwise disappointing year for the Hunter's pros in the US.

IT was a year that the Hunter's leading professionals produced mixed results, but the region's wealth of amateur talent continued to rise in prominence.

For sheer drama it is hard to go past Nick Flanagan's miraculous victory at the Tour's Charity Pro-Am tournament in South Carolina in May.

Striving for his first US victory in five years, the Belmont professional was trailing Victorian Cameron Percy by two shots leading into the 18th hole.

His hopes sank as his overcooked second shot to the par-four 18th sailed over the green and hit a TV cameraman.

But the ball bounced back onto the green leaving a 3½-metre putt for birdie.

After three play-off holes, Flanagan defeated Percy for a $110,000 pay day.

"Sometimes it's better to be lucky rather than good, obviously. You've got to take every break you can get out here," Flanagan said.

Unfortunately for the Hunter's US-based pros that was the one highlight of 2012.

Flanagan placed 45th on the money list to miss promotion to the US PGA Tour and a shoulder injury suffered while surfing ruined his Q-School campaign.

Charlestown's James Nitties recorded a sole top-10 finish to place 107th on the Tour's money list.

Newcastle's sole representative on the US PGA Tour, Nathan Green, struggled with his short game all season and eventually opted to adopt a belly putter, despite his opposition to the controversial club.

Green lost his card after placing 154th on the money list and will compete on the Tour in 2013.

Charlestown's Aaron Townsend recorded the victory of his career when he overcame horrendous conditions at Melbourne's Kingston Heath in January to finally win the International Qualifying Final for the British Open.

"You know I've played this qualifier so many times and I've come very close," Townsend said.

"I think when it was a four-spot I kept running fifth. And then it was a three-spotter, I'd run fourth. So I'm pretty happy to be where I am now."

He was unable to carry the form to the Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes where he missed the cut by a shot.

Charlestown's Jake Higginbottom endured a quiet year by his lofty standards until his breakthrough victory in November at the New Zealand Open in Christchurch.

The then-amateur had to forego the $72,000 winner's cheque, but switched to professional two days later.

"We think it is a good time [to turn pro], especially with the two-year [OneAsia Tour] exemption. That gives me a good platform. I feel I'm ready to go anyway," Higginbottom said.

Another Hunter amateur tipped to turn pro in 2013 is Toronto's Callan O'Reilly following a terrific 12 months.

The 22-year-old won the Avondale Medal, was selected in the state senior squad and finished the season with the NSW Vardon Trophy.

Other amateurs on the rise were Brayden Petersen (Charlestown), Dylan Perry (Muswellbrook) and Nathan Waters (Scone).

Petersen, 17, won his first senior title at the NSW Regional Championships at Gosford and Shelly Beach and Waters, 19, made it back-to-back NSW Country Championships at Muswellbrook.

Perry, 18, overcame 3½ months away from golf due a severe bout of tonsillitis to win the Jack Newton Golf State Age Championships and he later qualified for the Aaron Baddeley International final in China.

Off the course, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Newcastle District Golf Association when long-serving president and secretary Paul Cortaville announced he would step down at the annual general meeting in August.

No new candidates initially came forth, threatening to cast the NDGA into the temporary administration of another district.

Eventually former secretary John Waanders returned to become president and Charlestown club captain David Hartney stepped into the secretary role.

Financial pressures also affected golf in the area when the NSW Open at Newcastle Golf Club was canned in August due to lack of sponsorship.

"It's still got to be self-sufficient in its own right and it's not something we throw money at just because it's been a good event," Golf NSW chief executive Greg Mills said.


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