ZACH Murray is now well and truly on Golf Australia’s radar.
But it wasn’t always so.
Twelve months ago the unassuming Wodonga teenager couldn’t make the Victorian junior amateur team — this year he’s captain, last week added to the men’s side as well.
Murray ended 2012 just inside the top-50 juniors in the country. At the end of last year he was number 3 with a bullet.
The 16-year-old’s meteoric rise started with an early morning phone call in July.
Murray was nominated by Golf Australia as their sole representative at the junior Players at the iconic TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
Their statistics showed from inside 100 metres there were few better.
The Catholic College year 11 student then won the Australian qualifier for the Aaron Baddeley International. He went to China for the Baddeley final and set a course record in the opening round on his way to a four-shot victory.
He flew back to Australia and on four hours of sleep took on the best of Australia’s amateurs in the Dunes Medal, only to be beaten by a shot.
And after scraping into the matchplay of the prestigious Victorian Amateur, Murray ended the year by knocking over one rising star after another to claim the title that has been won by Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley and Marcus Fraser — all when they were three and four years older than Murray.
Murray’s stellar season earned him starts in his first two professional tournaments in fields that included past and present US and European tour players.
He missed the cut in both but says the experience was invaluable.
Murray’s immediate aims are winning the junior national amateur for Victoria but further out are starts in the Australian Open — guaranteed after the Baddeley win — and the Asian Amateur to be played in Australia later this year and reserved for the best 100 in the world.
Murray said despite his recent achievements he was still a work in progress.
“The trip to Florida really opened my eyes — it was the first time out of Australia and when I got there I just wasn’t right,” he said.
“I didn’t drink enough water on the plane, I wasn’t sick but it affected how I played.
“We took that experience with us to China and it was an entirely different story.
“It is the same with the professional events, there is so much to learn about how you prepare.
“People who are not familiar with the game say to me ‘why don’t you turn professional’ but I know I’m not ready — I’m only 16.
“I have another three or four years of hard work to prepare for that, prepare for the demands of travelling and tournament play.”
In the past week Murray has also been awarded a Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship on top of his inclusion in the various state squads.
“I’m very proud to be captain of the Victorian junior side — it is a quality group and a great honour to captain what is hopefully a winning team,” he said.
“And then to cap that off getting into the men’s side, it is incredible.
“I understand there have only been three people in the same team at the same time in recent years and going back over the years people point to Stuart Appleby and Marc Leishman as others who have been part of that.”
Murray attributes the past 12 months’ success to physical changes and mental maturity.
“I’ve got a bit stronger and hit the ball a little further,” he said.
“To many people it seems the success is so sudden but it’s been a gradual improvement over probably the past two years — a lot of hard work and a lot of that goes down to the support I get at home and here on the Border.”
Murray said he was trying to balance his school studies with golf but won’t lower the bar on his goals in the next 12 months.
“The big goal this year is to make the cut at the Australian Open and also to get into the Asian Amateur at Royal Melbourne,” he said.
“It is one of the biggest amateur events in the world and the winner gets a start at the Augusta Masters.
“You have to be in the top 100 in the world or the top 10 Australians in the world rankings, at the moment I’m about 12 so I should be able to force my way into the field one way or another.
“But if I won it, well that would be unbelievable, someone would have to pinch me to make sure it’s not a dream.”
This is Zach Murray’s first nomination for the Norske Skog Young Achiever of the Year award.