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From struggle town to tour star, Stacey's worth her salt

Stacey Keating on her way to the French Open title.

Stacey Keating on her way to the French Open title. Photo: AP

THERE'S no footy or cricket team any more, the pub's last beer was downed years ago, and at the end of 2010 the primary school closed its doors, too. The population has dwindled to barely 100.

In its fight to survive, the Western Plains town of Cressy is scarcely alone. But the locals boast something that sets them apart from your run-of-the-mill struggle town: they can call Stacey Keating their own.

''Everybody claims her,'' her father Neville said yesterday. ''We're all very proud of her.''

The working week started slowly on the Keatings' 2000-acre farm of sheep and grain amid the salt lakes 65 kilometres west of Geelong. ''Six o'clock came around pretty quick this morning,'' Neville Keating said, having endured another nervous vigil into the early hours, watching each shot slowly update on a golfing website as their 26-year-old daughter stormed home to win the French Open.

Fifteen minutes away in Lismore, Lorna and Clive Bustard - the grandparents who introduced Stacey to golf when she was 12 - had lain awake, waiting for the phone on the bedside table to ring. ''We haven't got the internet,'' Lorna said.

Stacey, who started the final round three shots behind Italian Diana Luna, wobbled with a bogey finish to her closing 64, and the Keatings sweated on the result of Luna's par putt to force a play-off. They were still staring at the screen minutes later when the phone buzzed. ''It was Stacey ringing to tell us she'd won - we were talking to her as it came up on the computer that the other girl had missed,'' Neville said.

The win completed a dizzying stretch for Keating. Disqualified from the British Open after signing for an incorrect score three weeks ago, she picked herself up to score her maiden European Tour victory in the Spanish Open a week later, and on Sunday rounded out her second season as a professional with a second win. Her blooming spring features prizemoney of more than $110,000.

Her father said Stacey ''was still in tears on the Wednesday'' after the British Open mishap, when she made birdie and par on the 11th and 12th holes in her first round and filled them in the other way around.

An aunty consoled Stacey that ''things happen for a reason'', while Neville believes the quality that marks her - relentless determination - was at the heart of such stunning and immediate redress.

All have seen it in her, since the day Nana Lorna walked Lismore's nine-hole course with Stacey and her brothers, Grant and Troy, so their mother Ann could play in the weekly competition without distraction. ''We had a ladies day then,'' Lorna Bustard said. ''There's no ladies day now, because there's no ladies to play.''

Stacey was given a 36 handicap, and won instantly. Soon she won the first of five Lismore club championships - in a playoff against her mum.

Back at the farm, she fashioned six makeshift golf holes in a paddock. ''She'd put a stick out there and a hole in the dirt,'' said her father, who remembers several car batteries being flattened as his little girl used headlights in the pre-dawn gloom.

''When she got sick of that she rigged up a couple of floodlights and had them pointing out into the paddock. She'd be up at 5.30 or six, and on the school bus to Colac at 7.30.''

It wasn’t until she moved to Melbourne aged 18, and came under the guidance of Steve Giuliano at Sanctuary Lakes, that Stacey had her first golf lesson. At length she won state and national amateur titles, embarked on a golfer’s travels, and met Darren Peters, her English boyfriend and caddy whose parents’ Surrey home has become her base.

The Keatings had a first European vacation last year and watched her play in Switzerland, and have been warmed by the support from all at Golf Australia, not least stalwarts Karen Lunn and Karrie Webb. "They’ve looked after her really well," Neville said.

Nana’s scrapbook is now bulging with printouts gleaned from far and wide, printed out by Lismore’s dutiful postmaster. Stacey will be home on Melbourne Cup day, after stopping off for tournaments in Indonesia and China, but no-one expects her to change.

"She’s very down to earth, so bubbly, she mixes no trouble at all," her father says, noting how she always seems to have friends offering her and Darren a room at each European Tour stop-off.

"A few more doors have opened the last couple of weeks."

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