Kelsey Bennett begins her final round today – photo Paul LakatosR&A Media via Getty Images
New South Wales golfer Kelsey Bennett today produced a valiant attempt to become Australia’s first Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Champion, falling just one shot short of a playoff with the eventual winner, Mizuki Hashimoto, at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the UAE today.
Bennet’s final round of 68 left her in a share of second place with long-time leader Natthakrita Vongtaveelap of Thailand and her fellow countrywoman Kan Bunnabodee, one shot behind Hashimoto who continued a remarkable year for Japanese golf.
Japan has now won the 2021 Masters, the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship and the US Women’s Open amongst the many titles their golfers have won worldwide, this event a major steppingstone to a successful professional career.
In the short-term, however, the title provides access to the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the AIG Women’s Open Championship, the Amundi Evian Championship and the Hana Financial Group Championship.
While no doubt disappointed at being unable to find the extra birdie she needed to force a playoff, Bennett will be delighted with a week which saw her contending throughout.
After starting the day four behind the lead and bogeying her opening hole on day four, Bennett did well to be just two behind both Hashimoto and Vongtavveelap at the turn.
The 21-year-old from Mollymook on the South Coast of New South Wales birdied the 11th and 13th to draw within one but despite creating further opportunities she was unable to convert two key chances at the 17th and 18th holes.
Still, her performance should prove a key week in her development as a golfer and will install a lot of confidence in her own ability to handle the big moments in the manner she did.
Today was really good,” said Bennett. “I was happy with the way I played. Obviously a few more putts could have dropped, but I held it very well. I was nervous coming in the last few holes.
“After the first bogey on the first hole I was thinking it’s not very good. But I managed to come back.
“The biggest thing I was proud of, what I take out of this (the event overall) is how calm I felt I was. Even when I did make a couple of bogeys and that double on the first day, I thought there’s plenty of holes to go, just take it easy and pace yourself rather than getting upset about it.
“I bounced off all the other girls that were playing there as well. So it was really good. I loved the experience, it was great.”
The key periods of play on day four were when Hashimoto holed out for eagle at the par 4 3rd and then followed up with a fine tee shot at the 4th to set up a birdie to be just one shot behind Vongtaveelap.
When the Thai golfer bogeyed the 6th and then found the water and took double bogey at the 7th, she had fallen behind Hashimoto but she responded in fine style with an eagle at the 9th and she and Hashimoto began the back nine tied at 15 under and two ahead of Bennett.
Standing on the 18th tee, Hashimoto was one ahead of Vongtaveelap and Bennett but when Vongtaveelap found the water from the tee, it appeared her chance was gone. She would find the green from long range with her 3rd after taking relief but was unable to hole from 28 feet, leaving Bennett as the only player capable of changing the outcome of the event.
Bennett missed the green left with her second to the par 5 but her pitch from a tricky lie would come up some 20 feet short and when she was unable to hole that, then Hashimoto had two putts to win from 15 feet which she was able to do to take the title.
Queensland’s Cassie Porter finished 10th after a final round of 74 but it was an excellent week for the Sunshine Coast golfer who only recently returned to tournament golf after time away caused by back issues.
The winner Mizuka Hashimoto – photo Paul Lakatos R&A Media via Getty Images