Order of Merit leader David Micheluzzi wants to close out the season-long ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia title with a win at the Play Today NSW Open beginning on Thursday at Rich River, and put to bed the notion that he can be overhauled when a tantalising Open Championship spot is in his sights.
The 2022/2023 season reaches its climax over the next three weeks, with the $400,000 NSW Open on the Murray this week, and closing out at The National in Victoria from March 30.
With 1,031.67 points, 26-year-old Micheluzzi has a lead of 228 points on Canberra’s Brendan Jones, who vaulted into contention by winning the NZ Open in Queenstown.
But Jones will likely overhaul the Melburnian if he wins this week and collects the 380 points available to the winner at Rich River.
Micheluzzi may have been tempted to check the points machinations – this is the first season that the Tour has used points rather than dollars to calculate Order of Merit rankings – but ultimately, he stripped it back to basics after his early struggles as a professional.
“I’m just trying to win,” he said on the eve of the first rounds. “If I win, I’m safe. I want to play a good tournament and if I do, the points take care of themselves.”
Micheluzzi was a world top-five amateur and finished inside the top five in an Australian Open as a teenager, but his early years as a professional were difficult. He has said that he grew so anxious about results that he feared where the ball was going, but he appears to be through the worst of that, winning twice on Tour this season.
“I’m playing golf,” he said. “That’s what I did as a kid, but I kind of lost sight of that. I lost the enjoyment of the game because I was playing bad golf. Everyone goes through that… Or I’m sure that if they haven’t yet, they will at some stage. If you don’t, you’ve had an unreal career.
“I’ve gone back to what I was doing as a kid, playing so much. Even weeks off, I’m playing so much, and making it competitive as well so that when I come out here, it feels normal. I’m playing for money, your four-ball in your group, all of that.
“That makes golf fun for me. It might not do it for other people, but the competing is what I love. Hopefully I can keep that trend going.”
Micheluzzi skipped the NZ PGA Championship after a long stint of tournament play, went home and put his feet up.
It’s left him fresh.
“I had a week off to recharge,” he said. “I’d played six weeks in a row, and I had a first, a second and a third in those weeks and the mental energy was low.
“I went home and I didn’t play a round of golf for five days, which felt like a long time for me, because I play a lot. I played Saturday and Sunday, but it was nice to see friends and family.
“I’ve fixed a couple of things in my swing. It feels great. I’m ready to go.
“I thought I’d be around about here, but I didn’t expect to be exactly where I’m at now, which is cool. Because all the stuff I’ve done behind the scenes is working and we’re heading in a good direction compared to a couple of years ago. I’m just excited to play again, compete and see what happens.”
As for Jones, his situation exemplifies how important this week is for all the players who have a string of exemptions attached to the Order of Merit, including DP World Tour cards for the top three.
The 48-year-old had been in a rut before he won the NZ Open; now he can claim another Open Championship spot at Royal Liverpool in July if he can catch Micheluzzi on top of the Order of Merit.
He needs a good result this week, or it’s back to his usual job on the Japan Tour, where he has two more years of playing rights. If he’s in contention for the OOM title, he will tee it up at The National in a fortnight.
“It’s the reason why I’m here now,” Jones said. “I’ve got a lot to play for this week, like a lot of players do.
“Others are playing for DP World Tour cards and things that can help their careers out. I’m here for another reason. I’d love to play another Open.
“It’s just nice to be playing well again. I had a lean year last year, but I’ve hit the ground running.”
In the strongest field seen in a NSW Open for some years, Micheluzzi goes at 8.15am Thursday with NZ PGA winner Louis Dobbelaar and defending champion Harrison Crowe, one of the best amateurs in the world. Jones is in the next group off the 10th with Brad Kennedy and Kiwi Michael Hendry, another Order of Merit contender.
Scores are likely to be low in warm conditions, given that at the qualifying round you needed six-under to get through and 61 led them home.
It is a welcome return to big tournament golf for the resort, which hosted both the Rich River Classic and the Australian Senior PGA in the 1980s.
The tournament will be televised live on Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Fox Sports and Kayo Sports.
PLAYTODAY CC has streaming and feature groups from 1pm Thursday and from 10am Friday at https://playtoday.cc.
Photo by Dylan Robinson/Golf NSW