It was only a few years ago that frisbee golf held more appeal to Nick Flanagan than the real thing but the expectant father has roared into contention with a course record-equalling 9-under 63 in the early stages of Round 3 of the Australian PGA Championship.
The 35-year-old only squeezed into the weekend field by virtue of a birdie at his penultimate hole on Friday and adopted a more relaxed mindset, an approach that proved extremely effective in benign morning conditions.
Out in the second group of the day, Flanagan put the foot down from the outset, making a birdie from 10 feet at the first hole and adding three more on the trot to be 4-under through four, building momentum with putts of 10, five and 12 feet.
A fifth birdie followed at the par-4 seventh where he hit 9-iron to kick-in distance and then with no 3-wood in his bag the Novocastrian chose to lay up with 7-iron off the tee at the 252-metre par-4 eighth, a lob wedge to 10 feet moving him to 6-under through eight holes.
Yet while there were three more birdies on the back nine to equal Ross McGowan’s RACV Royal Pines Resort it was par saves at nine and a 35-foot bomb at 11 that Flanagan credited with an excellent round into one with potentially life-changing ramifications.
“That’s kind of what happened the last two events, those momentum changes I just wasn’t making those 10 or 15-footers,” said Flanagan, who shot 62 in the opening round of the ISPS HANDA Vic Open in February and was tied for sixth at Royal Pines 12 months ago.
“Then I’d make a bogey at the next hole and instead of going one direction it would go the other way quick.
“I hit a good drive down nine and flared a 5-iron into pretty much the only spot you can’t get up-and-down from, in between the bunkers. Just dead.
“It’s tricky to hit those high lob wedges off this kind of grass and flubbed it into the bunker but then got that up and down, holed an eight-footer for par.
“That was the thing that kept me going and then I hit two good shots into 10.
“That’s the difference. I could have gone back to 5 (under) but I make that putt at nine, make birdie at 10 and all of a sudden I’m 7-under.
“Then to make that 40-footer (at 11) was what kept the round going.”
Incredibly, Spaniard Alejandro Canizares was playing in the group in front and going almost as low, an eagle at the eighth and birdies at 10 and 13 getting him to 7-under on his round, bogeys at 14 and 15 followed by birdies at 16 and 17 for an 8-under 64 and a tie for sixth.
Having missed out on a European Tour card by failing to qualify for the final two rounds at Final Stage of Qualifying School, a win would secure Flanagan status on a main tour for the first tim since 2015 and provide a career kick-start for the 2003 US Amateur champion.
“I’d love to play in Europe. That’s kind of why I decided to go to Q School this year,” said Flanagan, who would secure Category 16 status with a win on Sunday.
“I really wanted to play over there next year, so obviously if things went great tomorrow, then that would definitely be something that I’d be excited to do. Hopefully, that happens.
“Obviously today being out second group, there’s not a lot of people around, it just felt like another round. The adrenaline started pumping there the last three or four holes when I was trying to get to 10 or 11 coming in so I could really be up there.
“It will be different tomorrow. I’ll have to get back to kind of being intense again, but obviously staying relaxed enough that it’s not a big deal.
“If things don’t work out, I’ve got a baby due in five weeks and that’s really what I’ll be thinking about.
“But obviously I would love to go out there and win, it’s just finding that balance again.”