After 3 solid days I found myself just inside the cut line which in this tournament happens after 4 days, not the usual 2……normally. This year it looked like a different proposition however as when we went to leave the hotel in the morning we were greeted by some serious ice all over the car. The frost overnight had been the heaviest of the week and as we drove to the course it was evident everywhere. As we had already endured frost delays most days we knew there would definitely be another one today. Upon arrival and talking with an official, I asked what would happen if we couldn't play today at all. He responded by telling me that they would make the cut based on the scores at the completion of the 2nd round, not the 3 that we had completed. The reason being that because we were playing on 2 different courses on alternating days they had to go back to where everyone had played the same amount of golf on each course. This presented a major problem for me as I was outside the cutline after the first 2 rounds!! I needed to play!! With a golf course that looked more like a ski field than a golf course, we were resigned to the dining room to wait it out. There was no cricket in the locker room today so we made do with some Billy Birmingham magic listening to some classic 12th Man! We loved it but certainly drew some strange looks from the Japanese boys! Fortunately for us the day was the best day weather wise for the week and as the sun got up above the mountains the natural heat began to melt the ice. Together with the small army of workers on the course, the course was transformed before our eyes and we listened with joy to the announcement that play was going to go ahead! You little ripper, at least my fate was now in my own hands!!
The day on course started very well, with a birdie at the first and when I finally found the second fairway I had a good look at hitting the par 5 green in two shots which I did. I made the putt for eagle and I was away, 3 under through 2 holes. To save your eyes on reading, I continued to play great golf all day and by the end of the 13th hole I found myself at 8 under par. At the start of round 3 I decided with Macca my caddy that I thought I would need to shoot 15 under par from there until the end to make it inside the top 35 to get my card. So we played a little differently to how I have ever played golf before. We started a countdown instead of up….we started at 15 and every time I made a birdie we would simply subtract one from the total. Every time I hit the green I was simply putting for a number, 15 or 14 for example. After 2 under in round three and now being 8 under during round 4, amazingly we had knocked 10 off the count and were down to 5 to reach the goal. Despite a bogey and the rest pars for the day we were still in a great position to hit the target by the end of the next 3 days and my 65 for the 4th round allowed me to easily make the 4 round cut.
Round 5 was very similar to round 4 in that I played great golf. With the carrot of the top 35 dangling in front of me, I played superbly and registered a bogey free round of 6 under par 66 to move up to a tie for 13th going into the final round. The most exciting part of the day came at the last hole when I hit the green in regulation and was facing a birdie putt to finish the day. As we had done for days the putt was simply for a number but the exciting part was that my 15 I had started on at the start of round 3 was now down to either a 1 or 0 here on the 18th green. I made it and the count was zero!! You little ripper. I said to Macca that we had made it to the number, -12, that I thought would make the top 35. As I walked off the green however I said to Macca that we would reset the count to 10 for the final round and see how low we can make that number by the end of the day.
So with the marathon almost complete as I was heading into round 6, there was another story capturing my thoughts as well. Back home in Australia the preparations were well underway for the Australian PGA Championships on the Gold Coast. I was entered in the field and was given the last tee time on Thursday in order to give me as much time as possible to make it back from Japan. The problem was that it was Wednesday and I had to play the final round and then make it 150km from the course to Kansai Airport in Osaka to make a flight in time to get home early enough to make my tee time. It was a complicated journey home as the only way I could make it was to fly via Taiwan….yes Taiwan. So the plan was, play amazing, drive my hire car amazingly, make the flight to Taiwan and then connect in time to make my flight to Brisbane, sleep well or as well as you can on a plane that was leaving at 1am Brisbane time, get through customs quickly and meet my coach to drive me to the Gold Coast in time for 1pm…….easy hey!!
First things first was that I needed great weather and no FROST!! We arrived at the course to the first good news of the day, no delays, we would tee off on time! This was massive in my attempts to make my flight. I felt good heading out on the course but there was no doubt that I had to play well to ensure my position inside that top 35. I started with a par before making an eagle on 2 and a birdie on 3 and with that all the nerves were settled. I made another birdie on 6 and all of a sudden I had my final round count down from 10 to 6. Try and try as I might, I never made anymore inroads into that number and despite a great chance on 18, I ended up on 6 for a round of 4 under par 68. With my round complete Macca and I had a carefully planned strategy to get out of there as soon as possible. He headed straight for the car to pack my clubs up and I headed for the scoring area to finalise my week. I signed for 16 under for the week and looked for my exit. A quick look at the leader board to check on my place and I was tied for the lead with 12 players still to come. So with tied 12th the worst I could be I was very happy to hit the road for the airport. I said my goodbyes to the numerous reps from Titleist, Taylormade and Callaway, the guys that have looked after me up here in Japan all year long. All of them congratulated me on a great performance and promised to be in touch with offers for the 2015 season.
I headed for the car and was on the road in minutes with 150km to kill. Despite some frustrating traffic and some impatience from me, I made it to the airport in time to make my flight with 30mins to spare before check in closed, you little ripper. Everything was going to plan so far. I landed in Taiwan on time and managed to find my connecting flight counter and was checked in for my 1am flight home. I had a wonder around the airport as I found my gate, the airport in Taipei is one of the biggest I have seen, it felt like you could run a marathon inside that place! Hopping onboard my homeward flight I had a row of 4 seats to myself and despite a gentlemen asking if he could sit there I politely told him I needed the space to lie down and get some sleep on this flight home. I watched as he wondered further back down the plane and before long he found another vacant area and took a seat. I felt better knowing he was happy and certainly knowing that I was going to be able to lie down and hopefully get some sleep.
I managed about 5 hrs on the 9 hour flight home which wasn't bad and I was certainly feeling ok as my feet landed on Australian soil again. There is no place like home and to be home in time to play the PGA champs and have a chance to defend my top 60 position on the Order of Merit (top 60 keep their cards for 2015) was a great thing. I slid through customs quickly and painlessly and before I knew it I was in my coach Murray Lott's car for the final leg of this journey to Royal Pines for round 1!! I arrived with an hour and 15 mins to spare which was an absolute luxury. I had a quick shower to freshen up and then a bite to eat and headed for the practice range. My warm up in Japan for the past few days was 40 balls and I still felt stiff due to the freezing temperatures. Today I thought I would be stiff after the journey I had just endured but because of the heat I felt great and loose from the first ball. A few minutes later and I was on the first tee for the final event of the year.
My play in round 1 didn't last long however and no I didn't have to withdraw due to exhaustion or injury, mother nature had intervened and a lightning storm put a halt to play just after I had hit my drive down the 3rd hole. This wasn't really what I needed as I just wanted to keep going at this point, not stop and have time to allow myself to think about how tired I really was. Not to mention the fact that this was going to make this day even longer. After a couple of hour delay it was announced that we would be heading out to play again at 4.30pm. During the time off the course I was asked to do a couple of interviews and one of them made the PGA of Australia website, check it out for a read. Play didn't last long again as we only managed to complete 4 more holes and tee of down the 7th hole before more lightening ended the day. My marathon day was over but the next day was now looking equally as big with officials sharing the great news that we were to be on course ready for play at 5:30am to complete 30 straight holes for rounds 1 and 2…..not what I was looking for.
We were greeted with a wettish morning although he weather managed to stay away for the most part until it absolutely bucketed down for two holes. I made bogies on both of them which hurt my morning completion of round 1 which ended at even par 72. We were generously given 20 minutes off before round 2 and I used the time to grab a bite to eat and also get some work done on my left foot which has been plaguing me for months. I played well again in round 2 and was even par with 5 holes to play in very tricky windy conditions. The course was playing tough too, with the weather prior to the tournament not allowing the mowers to get to the rough at all meaning any errant shots would usually mean a chip out and most times a bogey. It wasn't the rough that was causing me problems however it was me and my fatigue as I carelessly missed a short putt for par on 14 and then 3 putted the 16th to find myself at 2 over for the tournament and the defence of my Order of Merit position under serious threat. John Wright, the Head Pro at Yamba golf club and a friend of mine for a few years had been keen to caddy this week and offered some great advice with 2 to play. He kept it simple and said, "You are flushing it Matty, nothing changes, we hit the fairway, hit the green and putt for the numbers….simple….one final push!" I liked it and thought I could manage to muster up enough energy for that. Incredibly the plan worked and I played two great holes leaving 6ft birdie putts on both greens and making both of them. As it turned out I needed them as I literally fell across the line to make the cut on the number. What a massive day, 30 holes and a massive relief as I had now secured my Aussie Tour position within the top 60 giving me a start in every event next year on the schedule. Finally it felt that I could stop and take in all that I had achieved in the past few days, my Japanese Tour card and now my Aussie Tour card and a great year ahead in 2015!!
The weekend now became just about having fun and attacking as much as possible. I said to John on Saturday morning that we were going to attack every flag all day relentlessly, what did I have to lose……nothing now. I played with Matty Goggin which was great to see how a US Tour player and a player who has played multiple majors does it. He was a very solid player you could see that but the most encouraging thing along with beating him on the day was that I felt as though my game matched up and it gave me great confidence to know that I am doing a lot of things right. I shot 2 under in very windy conditions and moved from tied 45th into a tie for 24th with a day to go. Sunday's game plan was the same as Saturday's, attack at all costs. I was paired with recent Australian Masters Champion Nick Cullen and as we are mates we just simply planned to go hard and enjoy ourselves out there. We did that beautifully around the front nine as I turned 3 under and Nick turned at -1. From there things went a little downhill unfortunately the putting well had dried up for both of us. Whether it was fatigue or not I don't really know but I managed to limp home with 3 over around the back for another even par round. No doubt a highlight for me was playing in front of my family and friends on that final day and putting on an exciting show on the front nine. I carried my daughter with me onto the 18th green to give here a massive thrill in front of the big grandstands!!
So it was all over finally, a marathon 10 competitive rounds in 11 days was done and so much had been achieved. I was heading back to the Japanese Tour in 2015 with a renewed confidence and different game plan for the tour up there. I have a bigger belief that my game is good enough for the world stage having matched it with some quality players this past week. On top of that I will have a great build up with 5 events on the Aussie Tour before Japan begins in April. On top of those 5 events I will be making a return to the Perth International, the Fiji International and of course the usual Aussie big 3 at the end of the year. I will have attacking goals for 2015 and can't wait to get stuck in. Golf is a platform for me to impact the lives that cross my path and with further success I hope that opportunity only grows bigger and bigger. Even if it is just putting a smile on the face of a stranger with a nice comment or gesture, that is making a difference.
For now though it is time to rest, recover from my injuries and to thoroughly enjoy celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas. I will love spending time with my family and also hanging at the beach enjoying this wonderful country of ours before I start leaving it behind again in 2015. Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year and sent messages of encouragement or congratulations. I read them all and they mean a lot to me so please keep on sending them. I hope to have impacted your life in some little way through this blog and wish you all a very happy festive season and new year!!! Catch you in 2015!!!!