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THURSDAY, JULY 5, 2007
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Spirit of America golf tournament volunteer Hugh Allen with golfer Brent Watson, who is from Australia.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Spirit of America golf tournament volunteer Hugh Allen with golfer Brent Watson, who is from Australia.

Hoping for a g’day, mate
Pair of Aussies join golf field at Spirit of America

By Michael Wetzel
mwetzel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

One wants to take home a blond lifeguard, and the other, well, just some good memories in America.

Australian amateur golfers Brent Watson and Nathan McMullen are in Decatur this week competing in 40th annual Daikin America Spirit of America golf tournament at Burningtree Country Club.

The 22-year-old Watson said he is still a bit wide-eyed with what he sees here.

“I got off the plane in Phoenix and was riding in a car to the golf course when I saw a road runner,” he said. “It was fast. I thought at first it was a bird, but it was just running along side of the road, really fast. I thought road runners were just cartoon characters.”

Watson arrived nearly four weeks ago and has five summer golf tournaments on the itinerary of his first visit to the United States.

“I’ve seen some blond lifeguards I’d like to take back to Australia with me, or maybe I should just say an American female lifeguard,” said Watson, a native of New South Wales, who plans to turn pro in 15 months in his homeland.

He is in the middle of playing a tough international circuit. Before arriving in the U.S., he teed it up in events in Australia and New Zealand. After American stops in Phoenix, Louisiana, Atlanta, Decatur, Portsmith, Va., and Niagara Falls, Hong Kong and Malaysia are next for Watson.

In his last Australian event before hitting the road, he finished fourth at the Keperra Bowl in Queensland. In the second round, he posted an impressive 63, the lowest competitive round of his career.

He tees off No. 10 at 9 a.m. Thursday with Austin Bowen of Chapin, S.C., and Geoff Stevens of Centerville, Ohio.

Watson isn’t letting the grind slow him down, however.

“I guess there’s only been six days I haven’t partied,” he said. “But actually I guess I’ve enjoyed a day at Six Flags (theme park in Atlanta) the best. There are some pretty scary rides there.”

Watson added he is itching to do some bass fishing in Decatur.

“I’ve seen documentaries on television back home about the bass fishing in this area,” he said. “I think it would be great to experience that. I live on the beach at home and love to fish there, but I understand bass fishing is totally different.”

McMullen, meanwhile, is a second-year golfer at a junior college in New Mexico, who plans to continue his American studies at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. The 20-year-old from Melbourne said America has given him a love for hockey and New York City.

“I went to the Colorado-Vancouver hockey game, and it was really exciting,” said McMullen, who is studying physics when he isn’t playing golf. “The noise in the place and everything going on on the ice was just amazing.”

He said a ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty and a visit to Ground Zero in Manhattan made him sense the American pride.

“At Ground Zero, there was just a dreadful silence,” he said. “I remember seeing it on television and being there just made me sad.”

McMullen begins his first round on No. 10 at 8:50 a.m. Thursday. His playing partners are Trent Howell of Decatur and Johann Lee of Jacksonville.

Both Aussies, who are staying at Jessica Hales’ home, said the Southern humidity takes a bit of adjusting to cope with.

“It’s hot in Australia during the summers, but it’s a dry heat,” McMullen said. “Here, the humidity is so much more. I’m sweating all the time. I get up, take a shower at 6 in the morning, and I haven’t done anything yet, but I’m already sweating.”

Both like the Burningtree course conditions and look to score well if they can solve the Bermuda greens.

“Most of the courses we play in Australia have bent-grass,” Watson said. “The grain is so different on the greens here. I needed help reading the greens on my practice round (Wednesday).

“I know it will take a lot of concentrating on the greens this week for me. If I can limit the bogeys, I should have a good week.”

Added McMullen: “The course is short, but you have to hit it straight. If you can keep it in play, you have a shot at scoring well out here.”

While both are in America honing their games, they say their time here is about more than low scores.

“Results aren’t the main priority for me,” Watson said. “I’ve learned a lot being in America. Some things I like, some things I don’t.”

McMullen said he is using his time here as a gauge.

“There are some of the best amateurs in the world here,” he said. “My results aren’t there yet, but I’m getting close. Competing in events like the Spirit allow me to see where my game is compared to the American kids.”

What do they miss the most about Australia?

For Watson, it’s chicken-flavored potato chips.

“I can’t find them anywhere here,” he said. “I asked the clerk at one store and she just looked at me like she had never heard of them.”

For McMullen, he said he craves meat pies, sausage rolls and VB (a local brew), while watching football.

The golfers have traveled together since meeting in Louisiana a couple of weeks ago. The Spirit committee lists both with minus-1 handicaps. So who is the better golfer?

“We’ll know in four days,” Watson said.

Daikin America Spirit of America schedule

  • What: A four-round amateur golf tournament featuring some of the region’s top amateurs and collegiate players. The 152-man field will be cut to the low 50 and ties after Saturday’s round.

  • When: Competition rounds run from Thursday to Sunday. Thursday’s action tees off at 7 a.m. from Nos. 1 and 10.

  • Where: Burningtree Country Club in Southeast Decatur. Admission to walk the grounds is free.

    Michael Wetzel

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