The most significant crowds and attention were on the marquee groups on day one of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship yet three young Aussies gave a glimpse into generation next at Royal Queensland Golf Club.
As the likes of Min Woo Lee, Cam Smith and Adam Scott strolled 18 holes followed by a throng of fans, Sydneysider John Lyras, West Australian Connor McKinney and Queensland youngster Elvis Smylie shone brightly on an overcast and humid morning in Brisbane.
Out with a pair of Michaels in Sim and Hendry in the morning wave, Lyras experienced something of a roller-coaster ride on his way to a 6-under 65 that put him in third alone at the end of the day. His up-and-down round somewhat reflective of his year to date.
“It’s nice to be back in Brisbane,” Lyras said. “It’s been a long year and just nice to get back amongst the Aussie crowds and the vibes.
“I’ve been injured and a bit of sickness here and there, so it’s just been just on the back foot, no real momentum. I’ve played a lot of good golf but then a lot of stretches of really bad golf. I just want to try and put some rounds together this week.”
Mixing his time on the Asian Tour and in America where his girlfriend lives and he attempted to Monday qualify for tournaments during the year, Lyras recently found himself in contention through 54-holes in China before a final round 81.
The St Michaels Golf Club member acknowledged the pressure of staying focused on the tournament at hand when there are greater rewards on offer, such as the pathways offered by the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia to this week’s co-sanctioning DP World Tour.
“I’ve had a really tough time trying to keep in the present and just focus on the golf that week. But they’re the challenges that you’ve got to deal with,” Lyras conceded.
“It was really hard, just trying to keep playing golf, play day by day and wake up with the same motivation every day even though you knew that something bigger and better is, what the goals you have in mind.
“You’ll see them and they’re coming closer pretty quickly.”
Similarly looking to use a strong finish in the local Tour’s richest event to propel him towards playing rights overseas after missing out at the recent DP World Tour school is Elvis Smylie.
Once again striding the fairways with Royal Queensland course designer Mike Clayton as caddie, Smylie opened with a four birdie, one bogey 68 to sit tied for 15th on a congested leaderboard heading into day two.
“Obviously I’m very familiar with RQ. I’ve played this golf course a lot of times and having played since ‘Clayts’ redesigned the course, so having a bit of an inside scoop’s always nice,” Smylie said. “I’m just very familiar with the course and it just brings a sense of being very comfortable around there.”
A regular presence on leaderboards in Australia, Smylie has yet to truly find his feet overseas as a professional.
The 21-year-old is, however, more than comfortable among the calibre of players that caused Clayton to suggest it is the best field assembled on these shores in decades on social media.
“It definitely makes me feel pretty good about myself knowing I’m surrounded by guys like that that I’ve looked up to since a young age,” Smylie said.
“But I’m wanting to obviously mix with them and learn as much as I can from them, but as well, I want to beat them. I want to test my game against theirs and see what areas I need to improve against Adam or Cam and guys like that.”
Smylie confident enough in his game if a head-to-head battle was to eventuate he would be well-quipped enough to potentially change his career trajectory with victory.
“Without a doubt,” he said when asked if he can beat the bigger names.
“It’s not an arrogance feeling, it’s just more of a silent confidence. I’m just going about my business nicely and just plodding along and just doing what I can control and let the rest just unfold nicely.”
One of the last men in on Thursday, McKinney joined the fray with four back nine birdies.
His bogey-free 66 puts him in a share of fourth, three shots back of Moscatel with the pair both carrying the same DP World Tour category after missing a card at the final stage of qualifying school two weeks ago.