27th – 29th October, 2023, Thurgoona Country Club

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Unheralded Trio Set The Mark At Six

If grinding in tournament mode is supposedly the recipe for success, somebody forgot to tell the leaders of the New South Wales Senior Open.

The unheralded trio of John Wade, Neil Sarkies and Euan Walters defied the lack of hours in their respective tournament logbooks to share the opening-round lead at six under at Thurgoona Country Club in Albury.

But while those three might not have been on the event’s promotional poster, they are followed by some of the pre-tournament fancies including Richard Green (-5), Steve Conran (-4), Glenn Joyner, Jason Norris and Terry Price all on -3, with Peter Fowler and Scott Laycock among those at -2.

All three leaders had hot streaks on a course that again endured a day of intermittent rain, yet was able to provide sensational putting surfaces that permitted such great scores.

Sarkies, head pro at St Michaels in Sydney’s south-east, had only played two competitive rounds this year so set his goal at a less than imposing level of “wanting to swing freely”.

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He made three birdies and a bogey early in his front nine, then endured a double-bogey seven on the seventh hole that might have fazed a lesser player.

“I didn’t think it wasn’t my day, just got on the eighth tee, carried on and tried to make a free swing,” Sarkies said of his mindset before he lit up with a back-nine 30.

“Then it kept clicking, I drove it well out the back and hit a few close with wedges to give myself some good looks.

“Then on (the par-5 14th) I hit driver and 3-wood to the right side of the green and flopped in a lob wedge for eagle, so it just fell my way for a while.”

Victorian Euan Walters held the lead for much of the afternoon until Sarkies and Wade joined him in the leads late on day one.

Melburnian Wade, having not played since August, himself made four birdies on the trot from the fifth, but said he might have “run out of condition” as his round unfolded.

“It was a nice run, but it’s kind of hard when you haven’t been in that position for a while and I missed a couple of opportunities on 10 and 11, then felt like I just hung on from there, which is more just a lack of playing the distance, mostly.

“But I was proud of the way I hung in there and finished strongly on the last (with a birdie on the tough 18th).”

His fellow Victorian Walters was enamored with the Thurgoona greens, pouring in four birdies in six holes early to set the day’s target.

“The greens here are phenomenal – you would pick them all up and take ‘em with you anywhere if you could,” Walters said.

“It’s amazing what they (the Thurgoona groundstaff) have done with them, especially considering the conditions we’ve had lately.”

Walters, with a smile, suggested the hardest part of his day lay ahead once he left the course.

“Fom here, it’s Voltaren and my massage gun, I really can’t play these days without some sort of anti-inflammatory because everything hurts and if it doesn’t hurt, it means it probably fell off a while ago,” he joked.

Richard Green shot an impressive five under 67 in his opening round.

Green looked the most ominous of the drawcard players, stumbling out of the blocks when his approach buried in the face of the short bunker on the first hole, before rebounding all the way to within a shot of the lead.

“I had a couple of little blips early but recovered well and played how I feel like I really should play for the rest of the round,” said Green, tuning up for final stages of the American Champions’ Tour in the next month.

“You can’t do much (about the bunker), just calm yourself and deal with it. I hit a 4-iron to 10 feet on the (par-5) second, made an easy birdie and away you go – that’s the only thing you can do. You can’t let anything like that early in a round get under your skin.”

Of the other big names Fowler’s putter was ice cold yet he still impressed to card a 70, one better than defending champ Brad Burns, legendary Peter O’Malley and the mercurial Andre Stolz, whose 71 included a double-bogey.

Peter Senior fought back late to shoot a 73 to stay in touch, while Peter Lonard battled throughout to card a 75.

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