2004: Downes headed up Down Under
Chris Downes has fast become a household name in Australian golf.
In the past 12 months, the 23-year-old Queensland professional – runner-up at last month’s Australian Open – has caught the eye of many, including Australian golf great Norman Von Nida.
Von Nida said he thinks Downes is one of the best golfers he has seen in years and could go on to surpass the careers of stars such as Greg Norman and five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson.
“He’s got the game, this kid,” Von Nida said recently. “He’s long off the tee, has plenty of strength and great touch.
“I think we should look out for Chris Downes in a few years because he’ll be a name people are watching.”
Downes, a former Queensland state cricket representative, shot to prominence in Australia last March by winning the Von Nida Tour’s inaugural New South Wales PGA Championship.
He blitzed the field by eight shots with four consecutive below-par rounds on the Pambula Merimbula course outside Sydney.
And Downes’ recent tie for second place behind Peter Lonard in the Australian Open confirmed him as an emerging star Down Under.
Downes said it was nice to hear Von Nida’s comments, but modestly suggested they may be over the top – and slightly premature.
“I know I can reach the top if I put in the hard work and stick to my goals,” Downes said. “I’ve worked hard the last few months and things are already starting to turn in my favor. I just hope things keep going for me.
“You have to take one step at a time. I’m still young and I’m working hard to secure my future as a player.”
Despite a solid start in the New Zealand Open Jan. 15-18, Downes wasn’t able to claim his first Australasian Tour victory – something that many are expecting.
Instead he settled for a seventh-place tie after shooting a disappointing final-round 4-over par 74.
Still, the future looks bright, and Downes has his sights firmly set on a career in the United States.
He believes he’s not far from mixing it up with the world’s best on the PGA Tour, and said when his short game is up to scratch he’ll be better positioned to take on the challenges ahead.
“We head for the practice fairway in Australia, and the Americans go to the short game from about 100 meters in,” Downes said. “They’re dynamic, and their short game is where they’re scoring.
“I know that part of my game needs attention, but it’s improving day by day. I’ve always known that to be the case, but it’s nice to know there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Last year, Downes and his girlfriend spent six months on the road in America battling through Monday qualifying with as many as 320 other golfers for limited spots on the Nationwide Tour.
He played in nine Nationwide Tour events and made the cut in eight, earning $45,272. His best finish was a tie for sixth at the Clearwater Classic in New Zealand, and his best U.S. performance came at the LaSalle Bank Open, where he tied for 14th. In his lone PGA Tour event, he tied for 18th at the B.C. Open thanks to a third-round 64.
This year – after missing a Nationwide Tour card by one shot at PGA Tour Q-School in December – Downes’ plans are much the same. But he is confident his 2004 performances on the developmental circuit will be enough to secure exemptions throughout the season.
“I’ve played well at home the last few months,” Downes said. “Now it’s time to see if I’m good enough on the international stage.”