• Course records give Piddon and Campbell the lead in the Hunter Valley

After some late rain Wednesday at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort, there were low scores to be had on day one of the Webex Players Series Hunter Valley. Phoenix Campbell and Tunrada Piddon doing just that with a pair of nine-under 61s to lead by two from Denzel Ieremia.

Out early, Piddon, who goes by ‘Pat’, wasn’t certain a low score was in the offering, and had plenty of shocked players follow her into score return to discover the Thai’s score that breaks the previous women’s course record of Cassie Porter by three.

“My putting was really good today, obviously. I mean didn’t expect it was going to be this low, but I stick some pretty close shots early on, so it built my confidence to keep going,” Piddon said.

“Hopefully it stays for another few days.”

Planning an afternoon exploring the Hunter Valley region with her sister and fellow WPGA Tour of Australasia player Peerada, the 23-year-old was likely confident she would be alone at the top of a congested leaderboard come Friday morning, before Campbell joined the party.

The Victorian, who set his first ever course record at his home club of Yarra Yarra in last year’s Sandbelt Invitational, taking the chances on offer to equal defending champion Brett Coletta’s low mark from last year.

“That’s pretty cool, I just played really solid,” Campbell said of the record mark.

“I didn’t let myself get too ahead of things, just a solid round of golf today. Hit a lot of greens, made a few putts, missed a few. Just all in and all a pretty solid day.”

Remaining an amateur after his QLD PGA victory late last year, Campbell continues to learn the ropes of top level golf, with a future in the play-for-pay ranks a matter of when not if. Something he hopes won’t change how he plays. An easily understood mindset following a bogey-free, nine-birdie round.

“I think there is a low one anywhere you go if you play the course like it’s meant to be played. If you play solid, you can absolutely go low anywhere,” the 22-year-old said.

“I like to think I won’t play any different when I am playing for money, it’s just another learning opportunity for me to try and get better and hone my craft. I’m not really thinking about winning or anything. Just taking one day at time. I’ll come out tomorrow, similar game plan.”

Currently undergoing a recent move into the pro ranks just like Campbell will eventually take, Piddon joined the professional ranks following WPGA Tour of Australasia qualifying school back in January.

The former University of Central Florida standout also going bogey-free while adding seven birdies and an eagle at the par-5 6th. Her recent shift from student athlete to professional allowing for an exclusive focus on golf.

“For me, it’s not too hard to adjust, from college golf you learn a lot. You travel almost every week, keep playing, keep studying at the time,” she said. “But this for me is easier, because you don’t have to focus on study, your grades, you just have to keep practising, keep getting better, and keep going. I love it.”

Having himself made the jump from college golf to professional golf back in 2019, Ieremia spoke of an increasing depth of talent at events like the Webex Players Series after his round that was highlighted by an eagle at the short par-4 7th.

The New Zealander’s improved putting performance on Thursday coming after doing his best to put into action what has become a common phrase on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia of “got to putt like Kazuma” as James Marchesani, who sits on six-under with Kade McBride and Jeffrey Guan, put it.

“Earlier this week I asked Kazuma about his putting. Asked if he could teach me aimpoint, and I used it today, so it worked. I don’t know if I am good at it, but it was close enough,” Ieremia said.

“He’s a good teacher, he’s a hard competitor, he beat me twice, as you’d expect. He’s probably the best putter on the planet right now statistically, so good person to learn off.”

Also speaking of the Kiwi comradery and Kobori’s inspiring play was Kit Bittle, who opened with a five-under 65 to lie in a share of seventh with local amateur Ella Scaysbrook and Victorian Mattias Sanchez.

Kobori part of a nine strong group one shot further back on four-under and five shots behind the lead pair, with PGA of Australia Associate Joe Kim alongside last week’s winner having scorched the front nine in seven-under 28 before dropping back on his inward half.

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