Great start to the season in China

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Since my last update I have played 5 events on the PGA Tour China from late May to early July. With an extended break from Golf in April to get married at home in New Zealand I was heading into these events more than ready to start the season and compete again in Tournament golf.

As was expected, my trip was off to a slowish start with a missed cut at the Wuhan Open, torrential rain hampered the event and made conditions quite tough during my first event of the season. Something I hadn’t prepared well for. It was a quick flight to Chengdu (home of the Panda’s) for the Cadillac Championship. Hot weather and hot scoring greeted the players on what was a good but simple course layout. My best memory from the event was the way in which I managed myself around the course. It gave me another chance to get rid of the rust from the break and tune up before the next event. I finished with scores of 72,70,70,70 to be 61st.

From Chengdu we travelled to Shanghai and Chongming island, west of the city. The course at Lanhai has been my favourite layout of the year in past seasons. Demanding from tee to green and exposed to the elements. This year was no different. I continued my improvements from the first 2 weeks and opened with a 3 under 69 to be 1 off the lead. The second round came and the weather hit. I played well but wasn’t able to take any advantage of the good shots, posting 3 over 75. A return of form on the greens in round 3 saw me shoot another 69 and climb back inside the top 15. Bad weather greeted us on the final day and after a great start being 2 under through 5 holes and into share of 5th spot the 4th round was cancelled because of heavy rain and wind. Unfortunately my good start amounted to little reward and I had to settle for a share of 15th on -3.

A quick week at home in Melbourne saw me play a couple of practice rounds which included an 8 under 64 around Huntingdale.  Back into scoring well and my confidence on a high I headed back to China for two more Tournaments.

We began in Nanjing this time, some 2 hours train ride north of Shanghai. The humidity in Nanjing was a real shock to the system following the cooler temperatures in Melbourne. A great Gary Player design golf course was the venue for this weeks event and it proved to be a good test for all players. I again played some solid golf. Opening with a 69 to be 3 off the lead. Scores of 74,72,70 rounded out my week for a T31st finish. My best memory from the week was the way in which I handled the heat, sticking to my routines and keeping hydrated sounds easy but its a constant challenge and requires good recovery sessions (ice baths) and lots of hydralyte and water.

From Nanjing we headed north to a mountain ski resort area called Changbaishan, situated just 50km from the North Korean border and about 300km south of Russia. We were greeted by many bemused locals and caddies that were actually ski instructors. Despite the unfamiliar surroundings, we were amongst fresh mountain air and a sunrise time of 3.55am!!  The course was in incredible condition, firm ground and a great Jack Nicklaus design course carved out from white birch forests.

My good golf over the past month was becoming more frequent and this week was an exciting prospect to play on a demanding golf course. An opening round 68 saw me in 2nd place just a shot off the lead. With a good course plan for the week with a premium on accuracy I was able to play to my plan well for the opening round. Round 2 saw me start on the back nine and with a few early mistakes I remained patient before making an eagle 3 on the 5th and following it up with a birdie on the 6th hole. Two late bogeys saw me shoot a score of 1 over 73. It was a frustrating way to finish my round but I knew I was playing well enough to get them back on moving day in round 3.

That was exactly my goal beginning the 3rd round. It resulted in me starting with 6 birdies in a row. That is the first time I’ve ever started with 6 in a row and equals the record for most consecutive birdies in the PGA Tour China history. Over the closing 12 holes I mixed 2 more birdies with 2 bogeys and a double bogey to shoot 68. This took me to the 54 hole lead heading into Sunday. A good place to be!

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Sunday soon came around and I began in a similar way to the 3rd round, making birdies on holes 2 and 4 to take an early 2 shot lead. I continued my good play but wasn’t able to capitalise on my good shots on the remainder of the front 9, mixing 2 bogeys with another birdie. I entered the back nine, one shot behind with the tournament on the line. I played some solid golf early on the back 9, executing my tee shots perfectly on 10,11 and 12. An untimely bogey on the 12th following the perfect tee shot was frustrating but the real frustration was about to come. What I thought was a good drive from the elevated tee box on 13 ended up a lost ball after catching a gust of wind and a bad bounce into long rough. A bad hole resulting in a 10 following another lost ball on the hole. My hopes of winning seemed gone but I wasn’t about to give up. I played more great golf over the final 5 holes but it was too little too late to try and catch the leaders. My best memory from the week was getting into a position to win the golf tournament. The exciting part was how comfortable and in control of my game I was. Sometimes you just need the golfing gods smiling on you and this week wasn’t my week.

Over the last two events I made a total of 37 birdies and 3 eagles. A good sign going forward that my scoring is right where I need it to be. That is a result of all the hard work on improving my technique I put in earlier in the year.

I now have around 5 weeks before the Australasian Tour starts up again. The inaugural Northern Territory PGA is the second week of August. I will look to play around 5-6 more events on the Australasian Tour this year. The China Tour starts up again the final week of August in Kunming. There are 7 events left on the China schedule for 2016, including the new Hong Kong Open.

I will be using this time to go back to basics and continue improving all areas of my golf. I’m excited about the second half of 2016 as I work towards a big finish for the year.

I hope you are all getting in lots of golf yourself, happy hitting. Thanks again for all your wonderful messages of support!

Regards, Mat

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