Daniel Gale carded a hole-in-one as he bolted home to win the 2023 Sandbelt Invitational at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
For much of the Sandbelt Invitational’s final day at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, it looked as if nearly any of the contenders other than 54-hole leader Daniel Gale would walk away the victor as he battled his game and an unfamiliar layout.
Gale needed his first hole-in-one in competition since his very first as a 12-year-old over the closing stages and par at the last for a 12-under total and one-shot win over Matt Griffin.
“I mean, it’s pretty special. Obviously, it’s a fairly new event, I love the concept. Four different courses … four amazing courses, it’s different, it’s fun, exciting,” he said of becoming the third winner of Geoff Ogilvy’s brainchild event.
“It’s pretty special, it hasn’t fully sunk in yet. Today was pretty stressful.”
The stress started early for Gale, who was playing the lesser known East Course for the first time in his life.
Pressure of trying to win combined with unfamiliarity as he sailed his driver well right on the fifth and lost his ball, the resulting double-bogey giving playing partner Lachlan Barker and the likes of Sandbelt specialist Griffin in the groups ahead plenty of motivation.
Griffin playing steadily and as the course allows, slowly moving his way into the frame as Gale’s struggles intensified as he reached the back paddock of the East, a place where few spectators ventured.
The almost silent atmosphere caused Gale to double check one of the early starters hadn’t gone past him with a low score.
“I was surprised. We had some crowds and then… That’s why I checked the leaderboard, because I thought someone else might be lighting it up,” he said of a period where he made three bogeys in a row starting at the 11th.
“It felt just like a Saturday whack around in all honesty at that point.”
Although it was a shot dropped to par at 13, the final of his terrible treble was the turning point for the New South Welshman after missing the par-3 long left.
Sending his second shot across the green into a bunker, Tournament Director Mike Clayton suggested double-bogey was the best possible result.
Not for Gale though, the 27-year-old almost holing out from the sand, his ball rattling the flag and settling next to the cup for a tap-in.
“That got very lucky, obviously nearly dunked it there. I had no shot whatsoever, someone had obviously been there before, and I knew it was going to be firm,” he said.
“That’s where I thought, things weren’t really going my way, it obviously didn’t drop, but I got away with one there. That was sort of the point I sort of said, come just switch on.”
Switch on he did.
With Griffin finishing up with par on 18 and many thinking it was enough to clinch the title, word filtered forward of Gale’s heroics a few holes back.
Making par at 14 after an approach that finished well shy, Gale birdied the next before making the ace from 168 metres with an 8-iron. Word filtering through via Royal Melbourne club captain Tony Rule’s text message to Clayton.
“I was trying to fly it in there about 160, and I think it did. Landed, took a big bounce, trundled up … Then it finally disappeared, it took ages to disappear,” he said.
Celebrated by the small crowd around the green, and a couple of members playing after the tournament, Gale’s ace lifted him into a one shot advantage that he managed to maintain over the final two holes. His par at 18 coming via a nervy five-footer under the watchful eyes of Ogilvy and Clayton, amongst a sizeable crowd.
Gale’s success coming during Ogilvy’s own moment of reflection about what he has helped build.
“Using what I believe are the best asset Australian golf has in the form of the Melbourne Sandbelt, is hugely important to me, but also the game in this country,” Ogilvy said.
“Unfortunately, my own game didn’t show up this week, but this event is about more than me and my performance. To see it grow in just three short years, makes me exceptionally proud and is exactly what my foundation was created to do.”
Part of that mission the assistance of young elite golfers, three of who joined Gale in the winners’ circle, with Robyn Choi claiming low women’s pro, Phoenix Campbell the low men’s amateur and Jazy Roberts the low female amateur.