The punters’ faith was justified when favourite Molesi Alefaio won a thrilling shootout to claim the 2021 Penrith Golf Club Top Gun crown on Sunday.
Installed as the top weight at Saturday night’s pre-tournament Calcutta, Alefaio avoided the crashes and missteps that saw the field of 19 players whittled down until he and second favourite Martin Finnimore reached the 18th tee.
And the final hole was the icing on the cake as both players made birdie, Finnimore holing a putt from three metres and Alefaio from two metres, forcing them to replay the hole.
Finnimore was unable to repeat his heroics but Alefaio split the fairway with his drive, rifled his iron approach to six metres behind the flag and calmy holed the birdie putt for the title.
More than any other event, the Top Gun final highlights the ebb and flow of golfing fortune, but what was evident from the outset was the ability of better and more experienced players to avoid an early exit.
Alefaio, a semi-finalist in February’s Match Play Championship, is the prime example. He struggled through the front nine but was never in any real danger of being eliminated.
The back nine was a different story as he seemed to take control of the event.
He had just the one close call, at the 11th, where all of his opponents where given a handicap stroke on the tough par-3. After failing to reach the putting surface in two, Alefaio holed out from off the green and then survived a five-man chip-off.
Seemingly emboldened by his escape, Alefaio played stunning long-iron approaches to within three metres at the 12th and inside two metres at the 13th and was pretty much stress free until the 17th hole, where his overly conservative play allowed Finnimore and Graeme Doyle to match his bogey six.
Doyle, who played a brilliant pitch on the 14th hole in a chip-off against Con Eleftheriou, could not conjure the magic a second time and was eliminated.
Finnimore, who had the lowest total over the qualifying rounds and carried the No.1 bib into the Shootout, looked throughout the day he would be there at the end.
He comfortably survived a chip-off on the 12th and powered through the closing holes. It was fitting that it took Alefaio’s birdie brace to beat him.
More than 1500 rounds were played during this year’s Top Gun qualifying period, putting more than $4500 in the prize pool.
Saturday night’s raffle and auction generated a further $6400 for the Calcutta prize pool.
Thanks must go to the players for the spirit in which the event was played, to the greens staff who presented the course in the best possible shape, to Daniel Steltenpool, who expertly marshalled the Shootout field, and to head professional Jonathan Green for the Calcutta auction.
The full results can be seen [here].