Jager showing focus in final amateur event

Matt Jager poses for a photo after winning the final round of the 2010 Australian Amateur Championship at Lake Karrinyup Country Club on March 24 in Perth, Australia.
Matt Jager poses for a photo after winning the final round of the 2010 Australian Amateur Championship at Lake Karrinyup Country Club on March 24 in Perth, Australia. ( Getty Images )

Thursday, October 28, 2010

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – When Australia’s Matt Jager makes his way around a golf course, every motion seems to have a purpose. There’s no fidgeting or sign of anxiety.

He confidently walks down fairways, his shoulders pulled back and head held high, in the picture of perfect posture. He usually walks ahead of his playing partners in a straight line toward his ball. This is no stroll in the park. 

“I’m usually pretty focused,” Jager said. “I like to concentrate on the job at hand.”

Golf soon will be his job. Jager, No. 11 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Rankings, will make his pro debut at next week’s Australian Masters, the latest prospect from a country that turns out a steady stream of PGA Tour players.

Jager, whose swing is a carbon copy of Adam Scott’s, already has the look of a polished pro. The former high-school tennis and Australian rules football player is a lean 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds. All of his swings, from short putts to tee shots, are made with smooth acceleration. He doesn’t rush anything.

Jager, 22, is playing his final amateur event at this week’s World Amateur Team Championship. He couldn’t have asked for a better start, 4 under through 15 holes, but his finish left much to desire. A water ball at the par-4 16th led to double bogey. He three-putted the next hole for bogey, then missed an 8-foot birdie putt on his final hole.

It added up to 1-under 71 at Buenos Aires Golf Club, a good round for a player who’s struggled recently with swing changes. Australia, the second most successful team in the history of this event, shot 1-under 143 in the first round. The Australians have won 12 WATC medals (3 gold, 3 silver, 6 bronze), second only to the United States’ 22.

Jager’s recent play hasn’t compared to the potential he displayed earlier this year.

Jager swept Australia’s match-play and stroke-play amateurs in March (the 72-hole stroke-play event and five-round match-play event are held in a single week). Jager won the stroke-play title by five shots, and beat New Zealand’s Ben Campbell, 8 and 7, in the match-play final. He was the first player to win both titles since Brendan Jones, currently the world’s 73rd-ranked player, did so in 1999.

Jager also won a second consecutive New Zealand Amateur this year, and tied for 23rd in February’s Moonah Classic, which was co-sanctioned by the Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia. Jager said he’ll likely try either PGA Tour or European Tour Q-School next year.

Jager will rely on his strong short game as he prepares for pro golf.

“If he’s within 30 yards, you can bet your life he’ll get down in two shots,” said Australia teammate Bryden Macpherson. That recovery ability translates to the rest of his game. “He’s always one to bounce back from a bad stretch.”

Brad James, Golf Australia’s high performance director, compared a player’s final year of amateur golf to an internship. Jager paid his dues this year. 

He started working with Marty Joyce, who also works with Australia teammate Kieran Pratt and European Tour player Rick Kulacz, in July in order to become a more consistent ball-striker. He struggled in the States while working on the changes.

Jager said he’s worked on controlling the clubface through impact. His swing looks like Adam Scott’s because the club stays outside the hands late in the backswing before getting slightly laid off at the top. The upper-body then appears to drag the club through impact, with the hands rotating little.

Jager’s ball-flight has switched from a draw to a fade, and he’s refined his knockdown shots enough to make them his “go-to” shots. He showed promising signs Thursday.

“He’s kind of streaky with his ballstriking, but when he gets it going straight, he can be pretty dangerous,” Macpherson said.

After exhibiting power by hitting his 5-iron second shot to 20 feet on the par-5 sixth hole, he hit knock-down shots within 10 feet on the next two holes to set up birdies. He hit a low 8-iron from 135 yards to 5 feet on No. 6, then hit 6-iron from 159 yards to 8 feet on the following hole.

“His swing has made him more consistent,” said Stuart Cox, Australia’s captain. “He’s motivated to do well.”

Jager’s on-course intensity doesn’t extend off the course, said Macpherson, who called Jager a “genuine” guy. When Jager’s round was over, the intense facade did indeed fade away. As he lugged his golf bag toward Buenos Aires Golf Club’s clubhouse, Jager’s hat was turned backward, giving the competitor a casual appearance.

The internship is nearing its end. Soon, we’ll see how well the promising young Jager is prepared for the real world.

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