A YEAR ago Antonio Murdaca was Australia’s 10th ranked amateur. This year, he is one of our brightest prospects after a thumping victory at the 2014 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
Now, he is at a watershed moment. By the end of this week, he'll either be returning to Augusta National or turning professional.
Facing a tough composite course at Royal Melbourne last year, Murdaca overcame the long-hitting Australian Todd Sinnott, rising star Ryan Ruffels, previous champion Guan Tianlang, US Amatuer champion Gunn Yang and Taiwan’s Pan Cheng-tsung, who now has status on the Web.com Tour.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, a winner on the PGA Tour, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur twice and goes some way to proving the tournament is now a breeding ground for future stars of the game.
The strides the game is taking in Asia are why Augusta National and the R&A are so invested in the tournament. The talent is there, it just needs to be nurtured and given an opportunity to shine.
By claiming victory last year, Murdaca clinched a place in the field at the 2015 Masters at Augusta and despite what was considered an underdog triumph, the South Australian knows the victory - and the experience gained thereafter - is what will catapult him into a long professional career.
“It was probably one of the hardest drives I’ve ever had in my life,” Murdaca says of his first tee shot at Augusta, where he was paired with Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott for the first two rounds.
“But I hit a really good drive. I felt like I was in the place I thought I should be with everyone.
“The Masters was a big experience for me. It helped me grow as a person and as a golfer.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with everything I’m doing. Being able to play in tournaments now and just not feeling that extra bit of nerves is really helpful and just in myself knowing all that I can achieve and what I can do.”
The win at Royal Melbourne handed Murdaca the golden ticket to Augusta and, unlike last year, he is now very much a known entity by the organisers.
Playing the Masters as an amateur means you get to stay in the clubhouse’s Crow’s Nest.
“Seeing [Billy] Payne was pretty cool. It was really exciting and knowing that I was there for the Amateur dinner at Augusta was really awesome and something you want to go back to," he said.
“Hopefully as an amateur, as a pro, it would be really awesome to go back.”
Naturally, Murdaca goes into this year’s tournament one of the favourites though unlike last year will be playing a course he is not familiar with.
Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club hugs the Hong Kong coastline and, at least visually, is a vastly different proposition to Royal Melbourne.
“The course is playing a lot different, not as firm as Royal Melbourne, it’s a lot softer,” Murdaca says of Clearwater Bay. “The course has such a cool look.
“It’s a little grainier and little slower. It’s going to be a challenge for all of us here this week.”
During the practise rounds, the intense heat and humidity meant many of the golfers were playing with wet towels around their necks, a far different prospect than the temperate conditions of spring in Melbourne.
“The more water that you can have prior to the round, the better,” says Murdaca.
“For me, just drink a bit more water and get more electrolytes in the body. Eat as many vegetables as you can and as much protein as you can. So, obviously, you have got to watch what you eat and don’t have any of the sugary stuff.”
The Asia-Pacific Amateur begins today and Murdaca will have to again overcome Ruffels, Tianlang and Yang, as well as rising Chinese star Jin Cheng.
It may be his last tournament as an amateur, but if he can successfully defend his title, Murdaca will not only match the feat of Japanese star Matsuyama but will stay an amateur until after the US Masters in 2015.
If he finishes anywhere else, a new chapter in his career will begin and he will be a name to look out for on the world’s professional circuits.
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