Penrith have proved their credentials with the club’s first foray into the top tier of NSW Major Pennant.
At the conclusion of the home and away season last Sunday, Penrith claimed third place in their Division One section behind The Australian and Bonnie Doon and ahead of Monash. The top three teams remain in Division One in 2022, while Monash have been forced into the relegation matches.
Sunday’s final round saw The Australian defeat Bonnie Doon to advance to the semi-finals but that mattered little at the foot of the mountains, where Penrith needed to win against Monash at home to steer clear of the dreaded drop zone.
In a mature and gritty performance, Penrith defeated a spirited Monash outfit 4.5 matches to 2.5. Dale Hughes scored an emphatic 7&6 win over Zac Telfer to set the tone early, and he was soon followed by a resurgent Chris Lawler, who defeated Michael Eksteen 5&4, and club champion Dan Smyth, who dispatched Danny Marshall 3&2. Losses by Josh and Jeff Gadd tightened the contest as Monash tried to mount a comeback but Will Arnold withstood a back-nine, birdie-laden charge by Olli Hugill and ended the match on the 17th hole.
Throughout the Pennant season, the hallmark of the Penrith outfit has been determination, where the players have held back all challenges at home and more impressively have taken the fight to their opponents in away matches.
The tone was sent in the first round at Bonnie Doon, where Penrith lost 4.5 matches to 2.5 but four of those contests were decided on the final hole. Two weeks later at The Australian, Penrith again took four matches to the final hole in a 5.5 to 1.5 loss, and it was clear the team were up for the fight.
If there was one moment emblematic of this it came when Dale Hughes took on The Australian’s 16-year-old wunderkind Jeffery Guan at Penrith. Guan, who this year was runner-up in both the NSW and Australian amateur championships, came to the last hole 1up before Hughes holed a four-metre birdie putt to salvage a half and secure a crucial drawn homestand for Penrith. At the end, Guan and Hughes had both fired six-under-par 66s in one of the games of the season.
Penrith answered the challenge and much of the credit must go to manager Ian Gallagher, who in 2015 took over a Major Pennant program in the doldrums and the club languishing in Division Four. Gallagher bolstered the playing list and brought an enthusiasm to his squad which had immediate effect.
The players have bought in and formed a cohesive unit, and Gallagher’s sometimes radical selections have been part of the secret sauce that has fuelled Penrith’s rise. After winning the 2015 Division Four title, Penrith moved up to Division Three, where they made the 2017 final, and last year the Division Two final to earn inclusion in Division One. The team were also semi-finalists in 2016 (Division Three) and 2018 (Division Two).
Next year, Gallagher is expected to have a stronger playing list at his disposal with the development of young talent and with some high-calibre golfers joining the club.
FANS HAVE THEIR FUN
Penrith’s caddies and supporters have played an important role in the club’s Major Pennant success and had their fun in the process. As is often seen in sport, rituals emerge and the caddies and supporters have a couple they insist they cannot neglect. One is that that caddies MUST enjoy a matchday beer before the game. Nobody is suggesting it rivals the All Blacks’ haka but for the caddies it’s crucial to the warm-up.
Far more left-field is the home game presence of a box of Wagon Wheels, courtesy of steadfast supporters Steve Anderson and Peter Willis, who camp behind the 11th green and present a Wagon Wheel to the Penrith player who gets nearest the pin. What is curious is that only one player wins a Wagon Wheel but the box is empty at the end of the day. We’ll let Steve and Peter explain.
Image Gallery photos captured by Noel Rowsell.