Stieger Victorious at Aust Am

Matt Stieger has won the 2011 Australian Amateur Championship with a 1-up victory over New Zealand's, Ben Campbell, at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne.

As you would expect with a final between two quality players, the match was evenly balanced throughout the majority of the day. It was not until the 35th hole, the par-5, 550 metre 17th at Victoria, that the door was opened through a wayward 3-iron approach shot by Campbell that landed short right of the green in heavy rough that the first sign the championship would fall Stieger's way.

Campbell made the turn at 1-up after Stieger was 1-up through the opening morning nine. The match remained in the balance for the second half in the opening 18, with Campbell entering the morning 18 holes with a string of birdies to get to 3-up through the 23rd hole. Stieger then fought back winning the next three holes in succession through precision iron play and clutch putting to be all-squared with Campbell by the 27th hole.

"It was a tough match," said Stieger.

"The opportunity eventually came my way on the 17th when Ben pushed his approach and I was able to get mine close after escaping the green side bunker. It hasn't really hit me yet about the win, it's simply amazing and I'm lost for words."

The Australian Amateur title is Stieger's second main amateur title this season after claiming the Tasmanian Open last month. Last year Stieger won the stroke title in the US at the Pacific Northwest Amateur Championship in British Columbia, however, his victory with claiming his national title surpasses all.

"This is the big one for sure," says Stieger about being the Australian Amateur Champion.

"It was an awesome match today. The support back home with St Michael's Golf Club, my coach John Serhan, my family and to get into Golf Australia this year has really pretty much stepped me up to the next level."

The pristine course that is Victoria Golf Club and competing in the championship match for your national title are a long way from Bellata Golf Club, in Narrabri, where Stieger started playing golf at 10 under the watchful eye of his dad, Andrew, as the two did battle on their local course. It's a classic tale of 'the boy from the bush comes to the city and makes good, yet Stieger remains unruffled about it and the current challenges with his journey into the main amateur golfing arena.

"I really needed to win a main event and set the record," says Stieger, 20, who made the cut at the 2009 Australian Open at New South Wales and had not been included in the national squad until earlier this year.

"I play events to win and don't care who you are up against as I tend to play the course not the player. I know that I can win and just needed to get that major win under my belt and that occurred today."

To the victor go the spoils with Stieger gaining exemptions into the 2011 Australian Open, the Master of the Amateurs and the 2011 British Amateur Championship. However, you cannot go past without commenting on the stellar performances that Ben Campbell has achieved so far this Australian summer where he's not finished an event outside the top-5. This was his second consecutive runner-up finish at the Australian Amateur with Campbell being runner-up last year to Matt Jager in Perth. Campbell had his chances during the final and the 1-up result is indicative as to the closeness of the final, which could have easily gone either way.

"Overall I'm pleased with my game," says Campbell.

"Matt played well and was a tough opponent. The match was in great spirits and I come away with a lot of positives with what I've achieved in the recent events that I've played and how I played out there today. Consistency is important and hopefully it won't be too long before a get that win."

Campbell is a class player and one of the purest strikers of the ball that you will see. The piercing 3 iron into the final hole today from 194 metres into the win that landed pin high for a 20 footer eagle putt, illustrative of Campbell's pure ball striking capabilities.

He played the final with plenty of determination and confidence, not more so that on the 34th, the par-3 178 metre 16th at Victoria, hole where Campbell made birdie sinking a challenging 6 footer putt to be all-square going down the 17th. Earlier there had been some blows during critical stages of the match where Campbell's ball lipped the cup on at least three occasions, yet to his credit he was able to maintain his focus and composure, reflective of the level of player that Campbell is evolving into.

While disappointing for the highly motivated and talented Campbell, it marks a strong week for the Melbourne-based golfer who finished third in the Australian Stroke play title last Sunday. Campbell during today's final was attempting to emulate the feat of his namesake Michael Campbell to become just the second New Zealander to win the trophy in the last 100 years.

Yet as with all national championships, there can only be one victor.

Stieger was coming to terms about the enormity of his achievement. A loyal following of mates from Stieger's home club, St Michael's on Sydney's easter suburbs, had surprised Stieger with their presence on the 14th hole during the morning round. It would proved to be truly motivational for Stieger and his smile upon seeing his "St Mick's" lads was evident.

They'd all only booked flights the evening when Stieger held off a determined Bryden MacPherson to make the final so as to get to Melbourne, not wanting to miss seeing another St Michael's club member win the Australian Amateur title, a feat that was last achieved by the great Harry Berwick in 1956 in one of his two Australian Amateur titles.

"To have them at Victoria Golf Club watching and supporting me was really uplifting," said Stieger about the final that was well supported by fans and watched by a number of former winners of the title and another great of Australian golf, five time winner of The Open Championship, Peter Thompson.

"Fortunately enough it worked out and I was able to get across the line."

Once the formalities with the presentation had been completed, Stieger and his loyal band of followers where cheerfully sitting around the table in the lush members bar at Victoria with the silverware, toasting their boy and eying the names on the honour roll that include Doug Bachli, Tim Ferrier, Ivo Whitton and more recently Brendan Jones, Brett Rumford, Matt Goggin and Andrew Buckle, to name a few.

Stieger's will now find its way there and it was hard to differentiate who was happier, Stieger himself or his band of loyal followers in what was a priceless moment in Australian Amateur golf.

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