Zunic positive despite playoff defeat at Australian PGA Championship

New mindset: Jordan Zunic credited Nick O'Hern with helping the mental side of his game. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt.
New mindset: Jordan Zunic credited Nick O'Hern with helping the mental side of his game. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt.

Port Kembla’s Jordan Zunic has credited Nick O’Hern for helping to develop the mental aspects of his game after his nailbiting second place finish at the Australian PGA Championship on Sunday.

Zunic and Queensland’s Cameron Smith were tied for the lead at 18 under after the regulation 72 holes, with Smith ultimately claiming the tournament on the second playoff hole.

“It was an unbelievable week,” Zunic said. “I played pretty solid every day, obviously on Saturday there was some pretty special stuff. I gave it my all on Sunday, unfortunately I fell just short in the playoff, but I have to take my hat off to Cameron Smith.

“He plays on the US tour for a reason, he’s definitely a world class player. To know I pushed him down the stretch was a real confidence booster. I know next time in that situation I’ll be able to go one better.”

The result, which included a course-record equalling 64 on Saturday, marked a stunning turnaround for the 26-year-old, who failed to make the cut at both the NSW Open and Australian Open on the previous two weekends. 

The difference, Zunic says, was 2006 Australian PGA Championship winner Nick O’Hern.

“I read his book Tour Mentality: Inside the Mind of a Tour Pro, then my girlfriend sent him an email, she was the one who read the book and introduced it to me. He got back to me and we met up with him at the Australian Open, then he came out on course with me for a practice round last Tuesday.

He had so much knowledge, he helped me think a lot better on course and to not put too much pressure on myself. The time together gave me a lot of his wisdom, but I didn’t expect it to click straight away.”  

Zunic held a three-shot lead over Smith heading into the final round at Royal Pines, however the lead had shrunk to just one by the midway point of the round and a Zunic bogey on the 10th saw the pair tied with eight holes to play. A Smith birdie on the 17th gave him a one-shot lead heading into the final hole. Zunic, however, held his nerve on one of the toughest holes on the course to force a playoff. 

Carrying Zunic’s bag throughout the weekend was his girlfriend Olivia Marlow and he credited her with helping him maintain his composure as the lead slipped away.  

“She was amazing, Olivia did a great job. She was great in making me think about the right things throughout the round and keeping me composed, especially in the clutch moments at the end. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Those clutch moments included a putt on the second playoff hole that cruelly rolled around the lip of the hole before rolling out. The miss handed Smith the victory and cost Zunic a two-year exemption to play on the European tour.

“I struck that putt perfectly and I thought it was going in. Unfortunately it stopped turning in as it rolled around the edge of the hole. It felt like it was in slow motion because the ball turned so slowly. It was a little bit disappointing, but I can’t do much more than hit a good putt, the rest is up to whatever the golf ball wants to do.”

Heartbreak: Jordan Zunic after missing the putt that handed Cameron Smith the Australian PGA Championship.

Heartbreak: Jordan Zunic after missing the putt that handed Cameron Smith the Australian PGA Championship.

Following the weekend’s success, Zunic is confident O’Hern’s strategies will enable him to progress his career to the next level.  

“We’re only scratching the surface. I’ve just been practicing for one week, if I can continue to practice I’m sure I’ll get better. He said he’s happy to help me out any time I need to bounce ideas. I’m very lucky, I needed a mentor in that area of my game, so to have someone like him who was a world class player is awesome.” 

Despite missing out on the European tour card, Zunic is confident the strong performance will earn him a number of invitations to European tour events in 2018. 

“Overall, I wasn’t that happy with my performances this year. But what I did this week was just great for my confidence and great for my year. At least now I can say I did do something good. It’s going to give me a lot of momentum running into 2018 and a lot of opportunities overseas. 

“Next year I’m planning to probably get a few European tour invitations after this second place finish. I’m also going to go to the Asian tour school in the new year. They have a lot of co-sanctioned events with the European tour so it’s another good pathway to get over on to the European tour.”