Vernon Sexton-Finck has discovered just how brutal Hamilton Island Golf Club’s back-nine can be in a polarising opening round at the 2019 PGA Professionals Championship.
The West Australian was on track to post a new course record through 13 holes at the Peter Thomson-designed course following five birdies and an impressive eagle at the par-5 5th hole.
After encountering trouble and recording a bogey at the 15th, a long tee shot at the scenic par-3 16th resulted in the first of consecutive double-bogeys that took him back to 2-under for the lead of the tournament.
“The first 13 holes are really solid and then the back-nine here and the finish is just so tough,” Sexton-Finck said.
“I guess I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could at the start and get as many under par as I could because I knew that the stretch at the end was going to be challenging and sure enough it was.
“It’s just Hamilton Island I guess and that’s what happens.”
Finck will build on the confidence gained across the front-nine as he looks to increase a one-shot lead over the final two rounds.
“I know I dropped five shots in the last four holes but I can take a lot of confidence out of today,” he said.
“Just one bad shot per hole on those last few and you just get punished so badly out here.”
Sexton-Finck’s return to competition golf after a winter hiatus at the TX Civil & Logistics WA PGA Championship has paid dividends at the Hamilton Island event where a win could see him earn a place in the field at the season-ending Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast.
“I played the WA PGA leading up to this and played reasonable that week. I was pretty rusty but it was nice to play on the weekend as well there. I certainly haven’t been grinding or hitting a lot of balls,” he said.
“That’s pretty much why I entered; otherwise I wouldn’t have played a competition round since about June. I just wanted to try and at least play four rounds in a tournament event.”
Playing alongside Sexton-Finck was reigning champion Scott Laycock, who is within striking distance at the top of the leaderboard at 1-under the card.
The Royal Hobart Golf Club Assistant Golf Professional was pleased with his three birdies and two bogeys in an opening round he feels was reminiscent of last year’s performance.
“I played just as well today. I hit a couple of ordinary shots early but I had a few chances as well that I didn’t make. All in all I’m happy with the result,” Laycock said.
“We all played really nicely,” Laycock added of his playing group including Sexton-Finck, Sam Eaves and Josh Lane.
“We had our struggles here and there but all in all we dragged each other along. Vernon was playing fantastic golf and just a couple of bad breaks and it snowballs here.”
Increasing winds caught out more than one player across the first 18 holes but in particular provided an extra test at the tricky 16th hole.
“It’s challenging. It just doesn’t let up. We both hit reasonable shots on the par-3 16th and ended up long in the hazard,” he said.
“It’s difficult when you’re the first to hit how the wind’s going and that was more down wind. It went from the north-east to the north-west. There were a couple of tricky bits from 11 through 16.
“You need to be accurate, you need to know where the wind is and if it caught us like that and you get a gust and it helps your ball go into the hazard then it’s disappointing but it is what it is.”
Round two of the 2019 PGA Professionals Championship begins at 7:45am on Wednesday at Hamilton Island Golf Club.
To view opening round scores click here.
For round two tee times click here.