Newcastle's Aaron Townsend was relieved just to get back into competitive golf last week at The Murray Open after the COVID-19 lockdown.
A guaranteed start in the NSW Open, an event he won in 2008 at The Vintage, was a nice bonus.
The Sydney-based professional, St Michael's John Lyras and Wodonga's Daniel Gill secured places in March's NSW Open at Concord with top-five efforts last Thursday and Friday.
Townsend carded rounds of 69 and 70 to finish tied for fifth with Lyras at five under, a shot behind Gill. The trio were the highest-placed players not already assured of a spot at the NSW Open. Canberra's Matt Millar won at 10-under.
Townsend believed he would get a start in the Open, through his ranking or an invite as a past champion, but said "it's nice to get that tick early".
"I probably thought I was going to be OK anyway with the category I had, but it's nice not to have to worry about it," he said. "It's an event I enjoy playing every year and I always think back to 2008. That was a long time ago now but it's still good to think about."
The Murray Downs event was a post-COVID return for most players and a welcomed one especially for Townsend, who had no real practice for three months during lockdown.
"Maybe that's why I played OK," he said. "I hadn't played an event for six months, and I had three months where I couldn't even hit a shot. All the courses around where I lived were members only and I wasn't a member of any, so it was just nice to get out there, swing a club and feel a bit of competition."
The second NSW Open regional qualifier, the Western Open at Dubbo, started Monday and Townsend shot even par 72. Jye Pickin was the best of the Hunter players with five-under 67 to be tied for fifth, four shots off leader Daniel Gale. Josh Fuller and Hayden Gulliver shot 71 and Clayton Small hit 74.
** Newcastle Golf Club's Ella Scaysbrook will be one to watch at the NSW junior championships next week at Lynwood after starring at the first Jack Newton tournament back since lockdown.
The 15-year-old won the girls' division of the Brett Ogle Junior Masters at Goulburn on November 20-21 and also scored a hole-in-one on the opening day.
Scaysbrook shot five under with rounds of 70 and 69 to win by two strokes from another Hunter talent, Amy Squires. The Horizons Golf Club member fired the best round on day two, a four-under par 68, to finish on three under in outright second.
Squires had five birdies in six holes during her run up the leaderboard, giving her a first under-par tournament.
In the boys section, Newcastle's Brij Ingrey finished third with rounds of 74 70 for plus two. He was two shots behind the winner, Central Coast player Riley Millers.
The state's best will be in action again from Monday at the 72-hole NSW junior championships, which were rescheduled from July.
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