South Coast product Kelsey Bennett is determined to put the heartbreak of two near misses at the NSW Amateur behind her by earning a maiden professional victory at this week’s Women’s NSW Open presented by Worrell’s at Forster-Tuncurry Golf Club.
Currently undergoing design changes implemented by Australian legend Craig Parry, the Tuncurry Course on the New South Wales Mid North Coast hosts a championship from Friday that boasts a star-studded honour roll.
Dominated by international players since its inception in 2006, the list of former winners includes current world No.1 Lydia Ko (2012), World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (2008), Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall (2011 and 2013) and England’s Meghan MacLaren (2018 and 2019).
A staple of victorious Golf NSW state squads for the past five years, Bennett turned professional late last year after an outstanding amateur career.
She won the NSW Women’s Champion of Club Champions at Manly Golf Club in 2017 but was twice denied the NSW Amateur crown, going down to Grace Kim 2&1 in the 36-hole final in 2020 before finishing third in 2022.
Those defeats have provided extra motivation as she seeks to kick-start her professional career by winning the state’s most coveted women’s professional event and the Jan Stephenson Trophy.
“I’ve come very close when it comes to the Amateur and all that sort of stuff so it would be a big honour to be able to hold a big Golf NSW trophy at the end of the week,” said Bennett.
“Golf NSW have been such a massive help to me, all through my amateur days and they still are at the beginning of my professional career.
“If I can get a title under my belt so early in my professional career, it would be really nice to give me that booster before going over to Europe and trying to do well over there.”
Medalist at WPGA Tour of Australasia Q School at Coolangatta-Tweed Heads Golf Club in January, the 23-year-old lost in a playoff a week later at the Melbourne International to close friend Cassie Porter.
It would be the start of an eight-week stretch of tournaments that she admits took a toll.
“I was pretty tired by the time I got to the Moss Vale and Wagga pro-ams,” said Bennett, who finished tied for ninth at both pro-ams.
“For anyone – even at the top of the top – eight tournaments back-to-back is pretty up there.
“I feel like I handled it pretty well. Physically I felt tired and mentally I felt tired but I still held on to it pretty well.”
One of the stronger ball-strikers in the field this week, Bennett arrives at Tuncurry – a course where she has played junior events previously – refreshed and reenergised.
In the past two weeks she has mixed sessions with coach John Serhan with wake-boarding, riding motorbikes, surfing and kicking the Sherrin, all designed to put her in the right frame of mind when she tees off on Friday.
“I definitely think that anyone who is hitting it well off the tee will be able to shoot a semi-decent score,” said Bennett after playing the front nine on Wednesday.
“The greens are pretty receptive – you can deal with that. They’re nice and small but if you’re getting yourself in a good spot off the tee, you’ll be fine.”
And as for that narrow defeat three years ago to Grace Kim – who this week makes her debut on the LPGA Tour – Bennett very much sees the positive in the experience.
“Anything like that, especially the Golf NSW stuff where you do well or you win, it gives you such a good confidence booster,” she added.
“It wasn’t a complete flogging, so that was good.
“It was a real close match all day.
“I made a couple of bogeys towards the back nine on the last round, Grace got 2 up and I just couldn’t get them back.
“It was really good because I had the whole St Michael’s crew there following me and supporting me.
“That was a really cool day. That was a really good moment.”
Perhaps there will be another moment to remember on Sunday.
With two events left in the season, Min A Yoon leads the WPGA Tour Order of Merit, with Sarah Jane Smith in second place. Rounding out the top five are Grace Kim (third), Cassie Porter (fourth) and Sarah Kemp (fifth).
With 10 of the top 20 on this year’s Order of Merit playing at Tuncurry, victory this week from either Breanna Gill (eighth), Bennett (10th) or Jordan O’Brien (11th) will see them vault into the all-important top-five.
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