The Shot Heard ‘Round Melbourne

Cam Davis won the Sandbelt Invitational with a thrilling driver-off-the-deck on the 71st hole, a rousing end to a feel-good week

By Alan Shipnuck and Colt Knedler

MELBOURNE, Australia—Standing in the 17th fairway at Peninsula Kingswood, Cameron Davis had to be wondering how his enjoyable stroll around the Sandbelt Invitational had suddenly become so fraught. The Invitational is, by design, a low-key affair, stressing camaraderie and mentorship among the young amateurs and grizzled pros who come together to celebrate a quartet of wondrous courses. A winner on the PGA Tour in 2021, Davis was playing the tournament as a favor to host Geoff Ogilvy, the assistant captain who looked after him a few months ago at Davis’s first Presidents Cup. He was the highest-ranked player in the field (72nd in the OWGR) and certainly looked like it over the first two rounds, shooting a 65 at Kingston Heath and 66 at Royal Melbourne to open up a commanding seven-stroke lead. (A budding golf architecture enthusiast, Davis said his mindset was simply to enjoy the courses—“the best in the world”—and not worry about his score.) At that point the understated silver trophy filled with sand from each of the venues might as well have been gift-wrapped and placed under Davis’s Christmas tree. Or so it seemed.

But even a low-key, collegial tournament can put intense pressure on a player in the final moments. Davis had lost all of his lead as he stood in the fairway of the penultimate hole, thanks to the heroics of his playing partner Momoka Kobori, a young woman by way of New Zealand who earlier in the week had set the course record at Royal Melbourne and Yarra Yarra. The coed leaderboard is one of the many charms of the Sandbelt Invitational. So are the questions these courses ask. Peninsula Kingswood is pure golf porn, and the serpentine, 601-yard, par-5 17th is a signature hole. After a booming drive Davis was still 291 yards out, staring down a pin cut on the left edge of the green, protected by ball-gobbling bunkers. With the tournament hanging in the balance, Davis unsheathed his driver and ripped a shot so good it immediately passed into legend. By the time his ball had finished bouncing and rolling and trickling, it was eight feet from the hole and the outcome had been decided. At the second Masters, Gene Sarazen similarly produced an approach on a par-5 that put the tournament on the map. At the end of this second Sandbelt Invitational, Ogilvy couldn’t help but see the parallels with Davis’s heroics. “I don’t know if it’s the Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” Ogilvy said, citing the moniker given to the 4-wood Sarazen holed on Augusta National’s 15th hole, “but it’s the shot heard all around Melbourne.”

It was the perfect end to a rousing week, validating Ogilvy’s vision of a fun, inclusive tournament that brings together a diverse group of players from across the antipodes. “We had the best guy in the field and the best gal and they were separated by one shot coming up the last,” Ogilvy says. “It was a total dream.”

For Davis, 27, the epic crunch-time execution was another marker in his evolution into a world-class player. He grew up in Sydney and turned pro in 2016 after a decorated amateur career. The following year he won the Australian Open, which dates to 1904 and boasts a glittering roll call of winners: Gary Player (7 times!), Jack Nicklaus (6), Greg Norman (5), Peter Thomson (3), Jordan Spieth (2), Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Adam Scott and one Geoff Ogilvy. The 6-foot-4 Davis patiently worked his way to America, winning a Korn Ferry event in 2018 to launch himself onto the PGA Tour. Last year he broke through with his first Tour win, at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and he was a stalwart at the Presidents Cup, playing in all five sessions and bringing home two points in partner play against the stacked U.S. team. Davis is humble and soft-spoken, but in victory he did allow some satisfaction over his driver-off-the-deck. 

“I’m just proud I was making aggressive shot selections rather than playing safe when in contention,” he said. “It’s always nice to take the bold option and pull it off. It just reaffirms in my mind that next time, if you want to win a tournament, you have to go out and hit the shot to make it happen.”

Kobori, 23, was unbothered by her near-miss, calling the Sandbelt experience “some of the most fun I’ve had on a golf course.” (She still earned a little hardware as the low female professional.) She counts Lydia Ko as a friend and mentor, and Kobori is the same kind of natural talent: self-taught until six months ago, when she began working with Lucas Herbert’s swing coach, Dominic Azzopardi. Tournament director Mike Clayton was dazzled by Kobori’s athletic action, saying at week’s end, “I haven’t seen her hit a bad shot yet.” 

Momoka

In February, Kobori will begin her first full season overseas, playing the Ladies European Tour. She leaves Melbourne riding the confidence of being “the star of the show,” in Ogilvy’s words. Kobori also departs with an expanded notion of how to play the game, as her biggest takeaway from the week was how much Davis (“a wizened old soul in a young body,” according to his sports psychologist Neil Smith) indulges in old-school shotmaking.  “Being able to do that can be a massive advantage, depending on the pin positions and using the contours of the greens,” Kobori says. “There were times where I was watching and thinking what kind of shot I would play in that situation and then it was like, Oh, wow, I did not think of doing that!”

These are the kind of teachable moments that inspired Ogilvy to found this tournament along with Clayton. “These courses make you a better golfer,” Ogilvy says. “They make you want to be a better golfer.” Davis’s support of the Sandbelt Invitational was a big deal for a fledgling event, but there are benefits for him as well. The kid is going places, and based on his fearless and creative play, Clayton has a specific destination in mind: “You can’t get better practice for Augusta than the Sandbelt courses.”

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1 thought on “The Shot Heard ‘Round Melbourne”

  1. As most of America looks forward to thawing out from Winter Storm Elliott, we are warmed by the reporting from the Sandbelt Invitational as Melbourne transitions from spring to summer. What an excellent tournament? PS – can we watch the action from the USA??? I’ll seek out some Youtube of Momoka Kobori and Cameron Davis.

    For anyone traveling to Melbourne who isn’t able to get on these great private courses, please be sure to look at the public courses further down on the Mornington Peninsula (St Andrews Beach, The Dunes) AND on the Bellarine Peninsula (13th Beach, Lonsdale Links). Excellent courses!
    And then Tasmania (with 7Mile Beach opening soon) and King Island (2.5) this part of the world rewards those that are willing to make the long trip!

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