James Gibellini brought notice to himself Thursday at the Dogwood Invitational, and not only because he accented his white shirt with lime-green pants and lemon-yellow golf shoes.
Adorned in his nation’s colors, Gibellini, from Broadbeach, Australia, tied for the second-lowest round of the day (66) at the 47th playing of the elite amateur tournament at Druid Hills Golf Club, bringing himself into a tie for eighth after 36 holes of the four-round tournament.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of the American boys … dress a little more conservatively, so I get a few looks,” Gibellini said. “But it’s all part of it.”
The sartorial habits of the American golfing amateur is only part of the education for Gibellini and the three other Aussies at the Dogwood. They are among perhaps 10 or 15 Australian amateurs who are following the worn path from their home country to the United States to crisscross the country playing the top amateur events in the summer months.
“There’s heaps of good players in Australia, but just the depth of the fields is so much better over here,” said Jake McLeod, of Townsville, Australia.
It’s part of the plan to reach the goal of playing professionally — sharpen the game against top amateur competition, perhaps catch the attention of a sponsor and play on different styles of courses.
“That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, to get the experience,” Gibellini said.
This is the fourth time that McLeod has come to the United States to play, and he’s only 18 years old. It’s the first time, though, that he has made the trip without his parents. From here, he’ll go to tournaments in North Carolina, Minnesota and Houston.
“Dad thought it’d be great experience for me to come over, but Mum was worried,” McLeod said. “She always gets worried.”
The trip is not cheap, of course. Gibellini is afraid to add up the cost, but estimates he’ll spend about $8,000 Australian, or about $7,500 U.S., money he saved up working at a pro shop near his home on Australia’s Gold Coast. He lined up invitations to seven amateur events including the Dogwood. He is staying with families that are members of the clubs hosting the tournaments. He has been to upstate New York and Rhode Island already, and he’ll be off to Seattle next.
At 24, he plans to try to earn a tour card for the PGA’s Australasian tour at the end of the year.
The Dogwood has a history of extending invitations to Australian players. Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott played the tournament before turning professional, as did Marc Leishman. When he runs into Scott at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club or at the Masters, Scott always asks about Druid Hills, tournament director Edward Toledano said.
They have a little bit of time to experience more than this nation’s tees, greens and fairways. Gibellini, McLeod and their compatriots were planning to visit historic East Lake after Thursday’s rounds and explore the city.
“What is it, Coke World, or something like that?” asked Gibellini, who plans to end his trip with a week and a half in Las Vegas.
McLeod’s observation of life on the other side of the hemisphere: “The (meal) portions are huge. They’re massive. They could feed me for two nights on just one meal.”
Welcome to America, Jake.
Etc.: Facing swirling winds and tougher pin placements, Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans shot a 3-under 69 to take the second-round lead at 12 under par. Auburn’s Michael Johnson is one shot back after his own 69. The tournament continues with the third round Friday. … North Carolina high schooler Benjamin Griffin, who set a tournament record Wednesday with a 61, dropped back to a three-way tie for third at 10 under with a 73.