By Paul Gueorgieff
Editor Golfer Pacific NZ
John Batley would have been excused if he was a bundle of nerves.
He had finished in a tie for the lead at the New Zealand Seniors’ Championship and was headed for a sudden-death playoff.
It was back down to the par five 18th tee at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, north of Wellington, to find a winner.
Batley and his opponent, Malcolm Gullery from Wellington, both finished the first playoff hole with pars. So it was back to the 18th tee for a second play-off hole. Again they finished with par fives.
It was back to the 18th tee for a third time. This time they both scored birdies on the 440m hole.
Back to the 18th tee for a fourth time. Finally a winner. Batley scored a birdie and Gullery missed a shortish birdie putt.
Batley’s victory was easily the best of the Aucklander’s golfing career. But despite the dramatic conclusion Batley said he never felt the pressure.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel too stressed about it,’’ Batley told Golfer Pacific.
Batley said one of the reasons for his relatively relaxed attitude was that his expectations were not at the highest level.
“I never expected to be in contention anyway,’’ he said.
Even when he found himself in the leading group at the beginning of the final round of the tournament his expectations remained contained.
“I thought even if I don’t play particularly well, I’ll maybe be second or third, and that was better than I expected going into the tournament. I was pretty relaxed about it all.’’
Batley had previously been selected to represent the New Zealand senior team against Australia the following week and his only thoughts were to justify selection.
“All I wanted to do was play reasonably well so I felt comfortable being selected for the team.’’
Batley said he was even relaxed at the prospect of defeat as each of the play-off holes went by.
“Going up and down the eighteenth, it was all good fun. I thought if I don’t do it, I’ve given it my best shot, good luck to the other fellow.’’
The New Zealand Seniors is for players aged 50 or older. Batley, 61, wondered if there was more pressure on Gullery considering he was 10 years younger.
“He’s 51, hits the ball a mile and is pretty impressive player. His expectations might have been higher than mine.’’
Batley said one of the reasons for his low-key attitude was that the New Zealand Seniors tournament usually contained players who have represented their district or been top age-group golfers in previous years.
“I’m generally just a weekend golfer,’’ he said. That’s surely an exaggeration, he was asked.
Batley plays off a zero handicap, has won his Titirangi club championship three times and since becoming eligible for the New Zealand seniors team at age 55 he has represented the country for six years.
“But prior to that I’ve never represented anyone apart from my Titirangi club.’’
Batley has a very strong connection with Titirangi.
“I grew up on the first fairway at Titirangi,’’ Batley said, explaining his parents’ house was alongside the first hole. He had hit golf balls since about the age of 10 but it was until his early 20s that he started playing in earnest.
Batley, a property valuer, won a North Harbour seniors tournament about two two years ago but the Paraparaumu event was clearly the highlight of his career.
“I just feel pretty chuffed my name’s on the trophy with some legends of the amateur game — the likes of Rodney Barltrop.’’
Golf has become so much of Batley’s life that last November he installed an artificial putting green in his backyard. He said it was about the half the size of a normal putting green.
“I was re-landscaping my backyard and instead of putting in a new lawn I thought I would put in the green.
“My putting has always been pretty poor and it’s certainly helped. I might just spend 5-10 minutes on it a day with a beer.’’
Batley’s scores from the blue tees at Paraparaumu, which can be notoriously tough, were 73, 70 and 74 for a five-over par total of 217. Batley said his middle round of 70 was his biggest disappointment considering he was poised to score 69 after his tee shot on the 18th.
“I had a wedge in my hand for my second shot and all I would have needed was a two-putt for 69. I ended up three-putting.
“That left a sour taste in the mouth. But in saying that if I had known I was going to shoot 70 at the beginning of the day I would have been more than happy with it.’’
Batley went into the tournament with only one practice round the previous month which had him thinking: “This is going to murder me.’’
But he quickly learned.
“It’s all about hitting fairways and keeping out of trouble — avoiding the double-bogeys; being satisfied with a bogey and moving on.
“I was surprised at some of the scores of guys that I thought would be amongst the ones to beat.’’