COFFS Harbour’s finest golfing export Paul Sheehan is excited about the year ahead after claiming a two-stroke win in the Victorian Open on the weekend.
Sheehan, 33, went into Sunday’s final round leading by two shots over Victorian Matthew Griffin and held on to the lead with an even-par round on the final round. He had an outstanding day with his putter on Sunday, taking only 24 putts.
“There’s no question it does give you confidence as the season starts,” Sheehan said after the win.
“There’s no better way to start the year.”
Despite living in Melbourne for several years because of easier travel, Sheehan still calls Coffs Harbour home and he was thrilled to win at the Spring Valley course in front of plenty of family and friends, who were urging him on in the gallery.
“My youngest daughter hadn’t seen me win a golf tournament but it was exciting to have cousins and family there and my wife being there as well made it very special,” he said.
The win is something of a breakthrough for the lean right-hander, who hadn’t won a tournament since claiming the Japan Open title in 2006.
Those with a good eye for form would have seen pre-tournament that Sheehan was due for a win. He had runs on the board in previous Victorian Opens, as well as a solid summer in the major Australian tournaments under his belt.
“I was leading after the first round last year before I faded away,” Sheehan said of his previous results at the tournament.
“The year before I ran about fourth there, so I’ve had some good signs around Spring Valley and I’ve ran second in the Vic Open before, so it was nice to have finally knocked it off.
“I played decent at the Australian Masters, where I ran I think 13th, and then at the Australian Open I played really well but didn’t hole any putts on the weekend and ran 12th but had a really good chance there.
“If I’d putted the way I’d just putted at the Vic Open things might have been different.”
Sheehan admitted though that the win wasn’t easy by any means.
“I struggled on the back nine a bit,” he said.
“I hit it in the water on the par-five 12th and made my bogey and then I was just getting it up and down for pars for the next few.
“Then it was the 16th, which was probably the hardest hole of the day playing back into the wind.
“I had a one-shot lead and we both had a four-iron into the green and we both hit it just short and were in the same spot.
“I chipped it to within eight feet and Griffin hit it to seven feet.
“If I miss the putt and he makes it it’s all square but it was vice-versa, where I made it and he missed and I had a two-shot lead, which was nice.”
Even then there was still plenty of work needed to be done on the closing two holes.
“On 17 I drove it into the fairway bunker and he hit a good drive, so I was looking like making par while he looked like making birdie. But in the end he didn’t get up-and-down and I ended up making my par, so I had two down the last, which made it comfortable,” Sheehan said.
“I hit a nice iron shot to get on the green and we knew it was ours.”
While the win might not have been a surprise to the form analysts, Sheehan said that winning was a long way from his mind as he entered the tournament.
“First week back there were no expectations. I was very under-practiced, being the first week back in the new year and having Christmas cheer,” he said.
“I had a good lesson back with my coach Denis McDade and he kept us on the track that we were working on at the end of the year and gave me a good lesson with the putting.
“The putting felt a bit ordinary on the first day but I putted OK. Then it was feeling really comfortable on the weekend and that just kept me going.”
Having broken the drought for his seventh career title, Sheehan admitted that he reached some low points more than two years ago, while he was struggling with his game.
“For my whole professional career up until 2006 I just got better every year, played some great golf and it all came pretty easy. Then I struggled and lost my way a bit over in America and lost a bit of confidence,” he said.
“Then in 2008 everything I was trying just wasn’t working and I was getting pretty frustrated. But I started to show some results in 2009 and that gets you keen again and has you knowing that if you work hard there’s going to be some results around the corner.
“Then I played well at the end of the year at the Australian events.”
The victory at Spring Valley means that Sheehan has a two-year exemption on the Australian tour, which gives him some much-needed security.
Even better, the win gives him the belief that he can win tournaments rather than being the bridesmaid, which he has been on a few occasions throughout his career.
“After the win I was running through a few of the seconds that I’ve had with some mates,” he said.
“There’s a second in the New Zealand Open, second in the Australian Open, second in a Queensland Open, Victorian Open, Queensland PGA and then about 10 or so in Japan, so it makes it that much more special when you do win, because sometimes you can play really well and not get it done.
“In Japan last year I was leading and played really well on the last day and then Ryo Ishikawa comes in with a 58. So you need your little bit of luck.
“This week I played really good for three days in tough conditions and then on Sunday I struggled with my ball striking all day. But golf is a funny game and it’s all about what score you shoot. I chipped and putted extremely well and in the end I just snuck over the line.”
Sheehan has little time to sit back after the win and rest on his laurels though.
Today he will be teeing off at Kingston Heath in a 36-hole qualifying event for the British Open. To qualify for a spot in the world’s oldest major tournament, he needs to finish in the top three among a crack field of some of this country’s finest players.
On Thursday it’s off to Sandhurst, where he hopes the good form will continue in the Victorian PGA.
It’s a busy time ahead before he re-joins the Japanese Tour in March but it’s a period that Sheehan can now look forward to with renewed confidence.