By Martin Blake
Gun Adelaide amateur Caitlin Peirce showed maturity beyond her years to win the first phase of The Athena at Sandy Links today and she will take the top seeding into Sunday’s matchplay section.
Peirce, 20, from Royal Adelaide, nailed a two-metre uphill putt in a putt-off against Amelia Mehmet Grohn from Coffs Harbour to clinch the $5000 first prize, which she is entitled to accept under the more relaxed amateur rules in place, because today’s play was not a designated strokeplay event.
Rather, it consisted of a nine-challenge event known as The Combine, and Karrie Webb Scholarship-holder Peirce rallied late, winning the final challenge – a nearest-the-pin at a par-3 – to get into the putt-off against Mehmet Grohn, then burying her first attempt at the two-metre putt and watching the New South Wales professional miss on the left side.
Ironically Peirce mishit the shot that won the day for her, a 6-iron from 141 metres that bounced 20 metres in front of the green, scuttled up and hit the flag, stopping so close that she won the 12 points for the final challenge of the day and vaulted up through the field.
“That last challenge really got me in there,” she said. “It was quite close to a shank, to be honest!”
Peirce is one of four elite amateurs in the field for the third playing of The Athena, an innovative women’s event that tomorrow will feature four-hole matchplay events to determine the winner.
The South Australian is just a few days away from representing Australia at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship in Singapore, and one of her teammates next week, Justice Bosio from Queensland, also made the top eight today.
For Peirce, it was an educational day as well as being successful. “Playing in front of the cameras is quite different to being in front of a crowd,” she said. “If you play big events, you might get on the TV but it’s unlikely unless you’re in the right groups. The cameras all day definitely made it a bit more nerve-racking.”
Although she started nervously, finishing fifth of 12 players in the first two challenges, she was consistent beyond that and finished strongly.
The fickle nature of the challenges was on show again; Victorian professional Kono Matsumoto won three of the first five challenges after a gorgeous pitch shot at the 100-metre hole and another superb recovery shot from under trees in a sandy lie at the ‘trouble shot’ hole, but Matsumoto ultimately finished 12th.
New South Wales professional Kelsey Bennett was tied for the lead entering the last challenge, but knocked her tee shot long through the green at the nearest-the-pin challenge and plummeted to eighth spot, only just reaching the matchplay phase.
But the atmosphere was convivial as is the way of The Athena, where the players’ personalities are on show and the competition is only part of the equation.
The loudest roar was reserved for Bennett's chip-in at the 'mystery' hole, and Peirce was showered with water by her playing companions on the green after the putt-off was completed.
As top seed Peirce will confront Bennett tomorrow in a four-hole matchplay at Sandy Links. Mehmet Grohn meets Bosio, Rhianna Lewis plays Sarah Yamaki Branch and Victorians Keeley Marx and Grace Lennon playoff.
Play is televised live on Fox Sports and Kayo Sports from 2.30pm.
1 Caitlin Peirce (SA) 66
2 Amelia Mehmet Grohn (NSW) 66
3 Rhianna Lewis (Qld) 65
4 Keeley Marx (Vic) 63
5 Grace Lennon (Vic) 62
6 Sarah Yamaki Branch (Qld) 60
7 Justice Bosio (Qld) 59
8 Kelsey Bennett (NSW) 58
9 Molly McLean (Vic) 55
10 Hanee Song (NZ) 55
11 Jordan O’Brien (Qld) 51
12 Kono Matsumoto (Vic) 47
Individual challenge winners
For the Sunday Playoff draw click HERE