IT’S not unusual to hear a tournament winner talk of being enveloped by a strange calmness during a final round despite the intense pressure that comes with trying to close out a victory.
Hong Kong Open champion Sam Brazel says he felt the sensation last Sunday, an almost disconcerting ease as he stood over an eight-foot birdie putt on the final green that could, and ultimately did, change his life.
Seventy-two hours after holing the winning putt, the 37-year-old says he still has no logical explanation for the lack of stress - though he is certainly thankful for it.
“I stood over that putt and it was like I was practising on a weekday here at Lismore,” he says.
“Seriously, it was the strangest, calm feeling that came over me; it was really weird.
“I guess I used a lot of techniques I’ve been taught over the years, things like breathing and staying in the moment and trying to enjoy the process of it all and really control what I can control.
“I know people say that time and time again but it seriously worked. It was just one of those situations. I don’t really know how I felt that calm to be honest.”
SAM BRAZEL SPEAKS AFTER HIS HONG KONG OPEN WIN:
The birdie, just the second of the day at Hong Kong Golf Club’s treacherous par-4 18th hole, handed Brazel his first significant professional victory. But it has also given him so much more than that.
Since 2013, Brazel has toiled on the Asian Tour, financing his first year with a mix of support from the Lismore Golf Club and its members and the rest “essentially by credit card”.
He didn’t keep his status that first season but bravely returned to Q-School to have another try and once again earned a card.
Twenty-fourteen was better and he kept his playing rights, then, in 2015, he had his best season yet, finishing 13th on the Order of Merit.
Fast forward 12 months, though, and things weren’t so rosy.
With exactly zero top-10 finishes in 18 starts in 2016, Brazel was hardly the favourite entering the European Tour co-sanctioned Hong Kong Open.
The man himself, though, arrived in Fanling somewhat confident thanks in part to a chance encounter with Rod Pampling.
“I actually went to the Greg Norman medal two and a bit weeks ago at Royal Pines and I was lucky enough to sit at the same table as Rod Pampling,” he says.
“He was talking about his latest victory on the US tour (Pampling won in Las Vegas in November at age 47) and he said he didn’t feel like his game was any different but that he basically let golf come to him.
“He said he didn’t chase it hard, ‘I just let it come to me’. And I guess, in a strange way, that’s how it felt for me.
“I didn’t go chasing it, I wasn’t trying to go out there and make every birdie, I decided to play smart and a few putts dropped for me at the right time.”
HONG KONG OPEN ROUND 4 HIGHLIGHTS:
Coupled with a new set of irons and a battery-recharging fishing trip with three of his best mates recently, it was a rejuvenated Brazel who finished T15 at the Australian PGA where a Saturday 65 proved a big confidence boost.
“I hadn’t been for a while,” Brazel says of the fly fishing expedition around NSW’s Northern Rivers district.
“But about six or seven weeks ago, I took off with a couple of good buddies and we just had a hell of a weekend. We had a great time and caught a lot of fish and it was brilliant.
“We were having so much fun we just kept saying, ‘let’s go round the next bend’ and then after that we’d go around the next one and the next one.
“Before we knew it, we were miles down the river and seeing some amazing places and the whole thing just changed my outlook on the last few weeks of the golf season.
“It gave me a bit of a refreshed outlook on things and recharged the batteries a bit I think.”
It definitely worked because Brazel outplayed his more fancied Sunday partner Rafa Cabrero-Bello to grab the title and all that goes with it.
As just the third event of the new European Tour season, Brazel’s win in Hong Kong earns him access to the world’s second biggest tour for almost three years.
“The exemption is actually the rest of this current season plus two more,” he says. “So I’m good till 2019.”
For a player who began his career on the Queensland Sunshine Tour and took his fair share of time to make it to an international tour, it’s a dream come true.
Happy to keep playing the game as long as he could turn a profit each year, Brazel has now moved up a notch in the game’s pecking order but is excited by the challenge.
“I was thinking about my schedule the other week and was getting excited about playing the Singapore Open but now I’m having to rethink everything because there are some big events in the Middle East at the same time,” he said.
“Everything has really just been turned on its head. I didn’t realise all the extra obligations and attention that came with a win but there’s a lot.
“I’ve barely had time to draw breath. I can’t imagine how somebody like Adam Scott or Tiger Woods does it.”
One thing that won’t be changing for Brazel is his home base. A self-confessed ‘home body’, he intends to model his European Tour career on Victoria’s Marcus Fraser and remain a resident of Lismore while travelling the globe.
“I’ve got such a great team around me here in Lismore and it’s home, I could never leave,” he says.
“I’m not sure how the schedule will work yet but I will do a few weeks on an a few weeks off and work out what suits me best.
“But this place is what keeps me sane and real and I won’t be changing that for anything.”
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