The Cullen family now has a gold jacket to go with a baggy green, and for newly crowned Australian Masters champion Nick Cullen, at least for the time being, gold trumps green.
As he reflected on the journey that has taken him from almost giving up golf to gatecrashing Adam Scott’s pursuit of history, the twin brother of former Australian cricketer Dan Cullen said it was surreal to think his name would sit alongside recent winners including Scott, Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter.
The 30-year-old, ranked No. 632 in the world, began the event at Metropolitan Golf Club without any status on any Tour in the world, but has now earned five years of full status on the Australasian circuit, He came from nowhere in Sunday’s final round to steal a career-changing victory and bank a $180,000 winner’s cheque.
“I played some pro-ams in New South Wales a while ago, and I think I made $500 for like two weeks,” said Cullen, recalling the time when he almost made a decision that would have robbed him of the biggest moment of his life.
“I was driving back and halfway home I was just like, ‘What am I doing?’. I’m not enjoying it, I wasn’t making money and just wasn’t happy,” he said.
“There were so many better places I could be, be with friends and family, and I’m out in the middle of the outback going nowhere.
“That was the realisation that, it’s either quit or work harder. I decided I wanted to give it a real go … all the people that have helped me over the years, I just didn’t want to let them down.”
The South Australian revealed it was a conversation he had with his brother Dan, a spin bowler who played one Test for Australia and five one-day internationals, shortly after that drive home that changed his outlook on the game.
“I won a pro-am a week later and I had a great chat with my brother. I three-putted the last hole to tie for the win and I was headless because it was the difference between $3000 and I had no money,” he said.
“Dan said it didn’t matter, he said ‘you won’.
“After that I realised it wasn’t about the money, it was about trying to win.
“Since then, I’ve just been trying to win… and to win the Australian Masters is pretty awesome.”
Asked which was more important, the gold jacket or a baggy green, Cullen replied, “At the moment, definitely the jacket” as he looked down at the latest addition to his wardrobe.
He then praised his brother’s contribution to Sunday’s triumph, which earns Cullen a spot in a $9 million World Golf Championship event next year.
“That’s the most important thing anyone has ever told me,” he said.
“He’s been at the top level of his sport and he’s bowled to the best batsmen in the world and got them out … been through all the media pressure… so to be able to talk to someone so close to you and confide in and trust, he’s been awesome.”
The first call Cullen made was from the scorer’s hut at Metropolitan to his partner, who is based in the United States, to tell her he had pulled off the Masters miracle the couple needed to continue their life together in America.
“I was saying to my girlfriend that I needed to win one of the last three events in Australia … to get status next year and play somewhere,” he said.
“Just trying to be in the States with her and not having a Tour card anywhere… it just wasn’t going to work.”
Among all that has been written and spoken throughout the week, the words “Nick Cullen” were barely mentioned until Sunday where he carded a three-under round of 69 to finish at nine under overall and outlast Scott. He started the day two shots behind overnight leader Paul Spargo.
A clutch bunker shot on the 18th turned a potential final-hole disaster into a dream come true, with the ball nestling to within two feet of the cup to leave an easy tap-in.
The par shut out Scott’s late rally, that culminated in a Masters moment on the 18th when a 15-metre putt from the world No.2 did everything but fall in the hole, leaving Scott one shot short of forcing a play-off, and tied for second with final-round bolters Josh Younger and James Nitties.
Cullen rated the bunker shot as the best of his career, delivered under the most pressure he had ever been under.
Cullen said to himself “oh, no” as his approach shot to the 18th flew into the greenside trap.
“I wouldn’t want to try and do it again, put it that way”, he said, adding of the tournament-winning putt, “I’m glad it wasn’t any longer, because I was nervous enough over that one”.