HAYDEN Gulliver laughs when his mates suggest that the 22-year-old Maitland amateur will win the NSW Open.
Gulliver is happy to simply have an opportunity to tee up at Twin Creeks against the professionals for the first time.
The three-time Maitland club champion earned a place in the field with a runaway win in the Thurgoona Bowl – one of several regional qualifiers – in Albury in May.
“I have never played against the professionals before,” Gulliver said.
“All my mates have been talking it up saying, ‘you can win it’. The goal is to make the cut. That would be a good result.
“The pros are a step above.”
Gulliver has played in some of the biggest amateur events in Australia, but is looking forward to playing alongside the professionals in a tier-one event.
“I want to experience what it is like,” he said.
“It will be good to see first-hand how they play and how their game is different to mine. Be inside the ropes and see how they handle each situation, the nerves and that type of stuff. It will be a good week. Good fun.”
Gulliver is among 13 Hunter players, including fellow amateurs Blake Windred, Tom Bateman and Jye Pickin, teeing up on Thursday.
Although an amateur, Gulliver has taken a professional approach with his preparation. His parents have rented a house on the course for the week. He and good friend Bateman, who now lives in Kew, played nine holes on Monday.
They will join former US PGA Tour player James Nitties, who shares the same coach, Jason Laws, for 18 holes on Tuesday.
“He is pretty experienced and hopefully he can give us a couple of tips on what to expect,” Gulliver said.
Gulliver has made two previous visits to the course in among playing a host of major amateur events and qualifiers for other state opens.
“Tommy and I went down in June and played 36 holes,” he said.
“Then in September dad and I were coming back from the Goulburn Cup and stopped in there and got another 18 holes. The par-fives are pretty long – all over 510m and well protected. I will have to lay-up on most of them and rely on my wedges.
“There are a lot of bunkers, so I am going to need to drive it on the fairways to give myself the best opportunities.”
In the past two months, Gulliver, who is the 45th ranked amateur in Australia, has finished tied for 42nd at the 72-hole Keperra Cup in Brisbane last month, was tied for eighth at the NSW Country Championships, won the Goulburn Cup (36 holes) and lost a play-off in the Manly Cup (18 holes).
“At the country championships, I had one-under the first round and in the second round had it to three under through seven holes but collapsed on the last few holes. A couple of poor swings cost me a bit. I need to limit the mistakes this week. You can’t afford that against the pros.”
As well as the amateurs, the Hunter will be represented by Nitties, 2009 champion Leigh McKechnie, Dylan Perry, Nathan Green, Aaron Townsend, Jake Higginbottom, Cal O’Reilly and Nick Flanagan
* Blake Windred heads to Twin Creeks in a confident mood after being the leading amateur and a tie for eighth overall at the Queensland Open on Sunday.
Windred carded rounds of 69,69,71,70 to be at five under, six strokes adrift of winner Jordan Zunic.
* Nick Flanagan’s focus has switched back to the Australian summer after he bombed out at the second stage of the web.com Q School in California last week.
Flanagan had rounds of 74,68,72,72 at Bear Creek to finish tied for 29. The top 18 progressed to the third stage. Flanagan hopped straight on a plane to return to Sydney in time for the NSW Open.
* Waratah are hopeful that Blake Windred will shoot for a third straight WE Alexander title after postponing the time-honoured 36-hole stroke event to December 22-23. The vardon event was rescheduled after only 33 players had entered. Club officials are hoping for at least 70 players for the new date.
* Entries for the Sunday’s Newcastle Cup close on Wednesday. Lloyd Radcliffe is the defending champion.