MT. MAUNGANUI, New Zealand (April 18, 2012) -- Seven months ago Australian golfer Harrison Savage was told he would never walk again. Today he shot a six under par 66 to claim the round one lead in qualifying for the New Zealand Amateur Championship. He leads Australian National Squad member Ryan McCarthy by one shot with New Zealand Stroke Play champion Vaughan McCall, Auckland rep Sam An and Western Australian Brady Watt all two back on four under par.
But the talking point of the round was the comeback of Savage who played magnificent golf in the afternoon wind with a five under par 31 on the back nine sealing a fast start.
It was a satisfying round for the six foot six inch tall Aussie who has endured a grueling road back to his best after his freak injury last year. He explained what happened.
“I was celebrating my nephew’s birth and I had one too many beers and it didn’t end too well,” said the 20-year-old from Huntingdale following his blistering round.
“I snapped my leg and dislocated my knee which left me out for seven months. I was told I would never walk again so it is great to be back after working so hard with my coach in Melbourne. It is sweet to prove that I still have got it.
“I wasn’t too happy with myself when the accident happened but coming back from injury – this just shows that the work that you put in is allworth it in the end. It is good to get here with the support of my family and prove once again that I can play. I am getting to the age where you needto start scoring well and to do it in a national event like this is special.”
Savage, who lived in Wellington for a few years growing up, was happy to be back in New Zealand and has reinvigorated title hopes.
“I have played NZ Boys Amateur once at North Shore and thanks to the club for billeting me. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here. The faith from my coach to stay with me and it’s my first lead in a big event since. I knew I could do it so now I want to back it up and show that it wasn’t a fluke.”
Before Savage’s heroics Australian National Squad member Ryan McCarthy held the clubhouse lead carding a bogey free five under par 67.McCarthy has been a member of the Australian National team for the past four years and has always longed to be a New Zealand Amateur champion.
“I was rooming with Matt Jager when he won three years ago [at Titirangi] and I was really jealous because this is a title I have always wanted to win,” said 22-year-old.
“I felt really comfortable out there, it is really similar to a course I grew up on in Tasmania. I hit the ball well and I was pleased to keep giving myself chances.
“New Zealand is like another state of Australia – it has very similar climate – and I seem to play well here.”
McCarthy hasn’t kicked on with his golf in recent years as he has been hindered by injury.
“I have been lucky enough to be part of the Australian team for the past four years, through a few injuries I have been amateur for longer than what was planned but I am hoping for a good run this year and we’ll see what happens.”
McCall is looking to complete a rare double this week by becoming the first player to win the Stroke Play and Match Play in the same year in 24 years.
He is looking to usurp the last player to complete that achievement, Victorian Brad Hughes back in 1988 and has made a solid start as he looks to back up his Stroke Play win.
“The conditions were always going to suit me,” said the 20-year-old from the Gore Golf Club who birdied three of his last five holes.
“There was a bit of wind which was good it made it a bit of a test, it wasn’t just pure conditions.”
McCall, who admitted he didn’t play his game in round one of the New Zealand Stroke Play in Hastings to shoot 73, was focused on sticking to his strengths.
“I did the same thing today. My swing got a bit quick with my tee shot down seven and I missed the fairway [where he made his only bogey].
“I said to myself: ‘Slow down and play my game’ I didn’t really miss a shot until the last hole so I played pretty solid from there on.”
McCall, who has never had a hole in one but came close with a tee shot to the par 3 17th, feels comfortable around the Mount course after playing the Grant Clements trophy back in 2010.
“It will a great Match Play course because it suits both the guys who plod away and hit it short from the tee like me and then it’s also good for the big hitter so it will make for some exciting matches.”
McCall is a fan of the change made by New Zealand Golf Tournament Manager Dave Mangan to spill the two national championships into separate tournaments.
“I like the break of the championships. It is a pretty long week when you are playing five or six rounds of Stroke Play and then the Match Play too so it’s nice to come here fresh.”
An, who also shot a four under 68 after working hard on his game, was pleased to be back at a happy hunting ground after he claimed the Grant Clements title here earlier this year.
“It brings back some good memories,” said the Titirangi Golfer.
“I didn’t know how I was going to play this week so to post 68 in the first round is good and I’ll try to go low again tomorrow.”
Western Australian Watt, who is staying with his family in Rotorua for the week, was pleased with his start as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Australia’s most recent winner of this event Matt Jager [2009- 2010].
“I played pretty solid and enjoyed the whole round which is always good,” said the 21-year-old, who represents the Western Australian province.
“I hit the ball pretty well and I made the most of my chances to score. It is a good course. The greens are awesome and there are a couple of tricky tee shots out there. It is going to be a fun week.”
Watt was at Hastings when Jager successfully defended his title in 2010.
“He played great that week and I have seen how he did it. It is not an easy title to win but a good seed in qualifying certainly helps.
“I love coming back to New Zealand. It is always cool to catch up with the cousins and eat a lot of good food.”
Local Brad Kendall, who won the New Zealand Stroke Play title in 2010 around Hastings, opened with a two under par 70 to be four shots back, tied seventh with Josef Edge (St Andrews) and Tyler Lock (Castlecliff) and Thomas Brockelsby (Royal Wellington).
Kendall is looking to follow in his father Owen’s footsteps whose image is up in the Mount Maunganui clubhouse as a New Zealand Amateur champion in 1978.