The National, Thursday, April 28, 2011
SEVENTEEN-year-old Margaret Lavaki, playing off 10-handicap, became the first and youngest national champion for the PNG Women’s golf, when she won the 2011 Digicel National Golf Championships held in Port Moresby over the Easter weekend.
Competing in her third championship, the teenager from the Port Moresby Golf club, atoned for her disappointment in last year’s championships in Lae, when she lost the opportunity to win the title as a 16-year-old, after stumbling on the final day to lose by three strokes after leading the tournament by four strokes for the first three days.
Competing in a strong field of the best in PNG’s women’s golf, the Pacific MMI and National Gaming Control Board sponsored junior golfer not only won the senior open title but also won the national junior girls champion crown.
Despite the very wet conditions on the opening round last Friday, young Lavaki opened her campaign with a very impressive opening round when she carded six consecutive pars on the front nine holes.
A heavy downpour during the day forced play to be abandoned due to the very flooded condition of the course and her brilliant start was all in vain.
On the second day, Lavaki carded an unusual 89 against her current improving performances; however, she bounced back with a winning punch on the third day with a fine score of 83.
A composed performance on the final day with a score of 84 was just enough to capture her first major golf title.
The youngster showed true grit of a determined golfer focused on winning a title, when she played through the last two days despite going down with a heavy cold and flu.
She was on the verge of being withdrawn from the tournament on the final day, however, she insisted to complete the tournament and she finished the day in fine style with double championship titles.
She won the junior and the senior open titles with a gross score of 256 over three days and netted a score of 226.
Lavaki attributed her achievement to her sponsors, Pacific MMI and the National Gaming Control Board, who funded her coaching and participation in tournaments in Australia to gain experience which helped her this year.
The tournament was reduced from the usual 72 holes to 56 due to rain that disrupted first day.
Another youngster, 20-year-old Cassie Koma, son of a groundsman at the Port Moresby Golf Club, who lives in the Erima settlement, emerged as the surprise packet of the tournament when he outclassed his more fancied and experienced senior golfers to snatch the men’s coveted title, after a three-way, three-hole playoff effort.
Koma’s win was more significant in that, the 20-year-old only started playing golf last July.
Starting as a caddie for prominent lawyer cum ardent golfer, Vincent Mirupasi, his mentor saw the talent in his caddie and encouraged Koma to play.
Mirupasi Lawyers sponsored his membership and participation at the Port Moresby Golf Club weekend competitions.
His short time in the game is being likened as a case of “rags to riches story”, with his meteoric rise from obscurity to stardom.
His performance over the weekend was his first ever major four-day tournament and he showed he can compete at such a high level.
Koma’s 56-hole gross score of 250 enabled him to share equal first place finish with Robin James of Madang and Sammy Bob from Mt Hagen.
In the playoffs, Bob was shot out on the second playoff hole on the sixth hole when he hit a bogey while Koma and James parred the hole.
Despite heavy darkness and verypoor visibility that required night vision goggles or the eyes of an owl, both players chose to continue onto the third playoff hole.
While both found the fairway safe with 150m to the green, James’ second shot found the branches on the right of the fairway, while Koma, using his homeground knowledge landed his second shot on the left side of the green.
James third shot also clipped the branches and landed short off the front of the green.
James double bogeyed the hole while Koma landed his third shot next to the pin and walked off with a miracle par in total darkness.
James rued his decision to continue to play on as a decision to continue the next day, would have given him a better chance to compete to his usual best.