Newcastle PGA Professional David Van Raalte likened his surprise outright lead to the early moments of a Melbourne Cup after he rode a hot putter around Richmond Golf Club in 64 at the Nova Employment Australian PGA Senior Championship on Frida.
The 52-year-old who teaches at Charlestown Golf Club was one-over par through his first five holes as the 54-hole tournament began in perfect conditions, with no hint of what was to come.
But he rolled in birdie putts on his next four holes – the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes at Richmond – and added another three on the front nine to card a six-under total and overtake the early-morning leader, Sunshine Coast-based Andre Stolz (65).
It is heady territory for Van Raalte, who plays only part-time and has not won an event of this magnitude before.
He is a shot ahead of Stolz with a bunch of players – including big names such as in-form Victorian Richard Green, two-time winner Peter Senior and US-based David McKenzie – at three-under 67 and well in contention.
“It’s great,” said Van Raalte afterward. “After the first round, it’s a little bit like running in the Melbourne Cup I suppose. We’re getting the first third of the race in, but it’s great to have played well, and it’s something to take with me for the next few days. I’ll keep working on what I’ve been working on and hopefully get some results.”
Today he hit the lead when he flushed his iron shot close at the par-3 eighth hole and rolled in the putt for birdie. He then made a miraculous par-save at the ninth hole, his last of the day, after an errant drive left him needing to punch-cut around the trees that had stymied him, finishing it with a two-metre right-to-left putt that was centre-cup.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I just had a day when I holed a few putts.”
Pelican Waters’ Stolz, 51, was early out of the blocks and is in position to repeat his win of two years ago after a fine opening round despite playing in pain.
He made six birdies in perfect conditions from his 8am tee time off the 10th, with only one blemish – a bogey at the par-4 third hole where his hybrid club from the tee found water on the left.
“I got a bit greedy trying to get it closer to that hole,” he said. “But I was playing good and hitting a lot of good shots, and I was only thinking birdies at the time.”
Stolz is already leading the SParms PGA Legends Tour Order of Merit for 2022 but his past couple of years have not necessarily been smooth sailing.
First there was the incident at Meadowbrook on the Gold Coast in September 2021 when he had to leave the course during a pro-am with a heart issue. It was initially thought to be a heart attack but subsequently turned out to be pericarditis – a nasty bout of inflammation around the heart. He has no issues with that now, but he is battling plantar fasciitis in the left heel that has left him playing in a cart this week.
He only gets to the first tee on the back of constant preparation with hot water, stretching and massage for 45 minutes each day.
“It’s morning and night,” he said. “I’m sick of it but I’m trying to do what I’m supposed to do.
“I’ve been fighting it since January. I had a cortisone shot and I had four months without pain, but that’s worn off, and now my knee’s buggered from walking funny to protect it. It’s been a nightmare.
“Luckily I can get a ride in the cart. It doesn’t affect me hitting, but I can walk about six holes with it and then ‘bang’, and I’m limping the whole way home.”
Stolz left a couple of shots out on the track and was surprised the scores were not lower on such a benign day.
“The greens are magnificent so I was expecting everyone to go pretty low today. I missed a few putts, probably could’ve shot six or seven under.”
The $120,000 championship continues tomorrow with live coverage on Fox Sports and Kayo Sports from 2.30pm AEDT. Sunday’s third and final round will also screen live on Fox and Kayo.