Damon Welsford is ready to take on the Australian Masters. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Damon Welsford sacrificed his own game to become a caddy and a stint carrying Nikki Campbell's clubs in Japan has reinvigorated his passion for golf.
The only problem is his clubs have been gathering dust and his swing is rusty after just a handful of practice rounds leading into the start of the Australian Masters on Thursday.
Welsford will compete in his first tournament in almost 12 months when play begins at the Kingston Heath Golf Club in Melbourne.
Dragging the clubs out of the garage just two weeks ago is hardly the ideal preparation for taming the first big tournament of the Australian summer.
While most of his competitors were on the driving range or playing tournaments around the world, Welsford was content carrying partner Campbell's bag on the women's Japanese Tour. He even decided to play cricket for the Queanbeyan lower grades instead of fine-tuning his game on the course.
''But they were rained out and maybe that was telling me to get back on the golf course,'' Welsford said.
''I needed a break and now I'm looking forward to playing again … that doesn't mean I'll play any better, but I just feel better about being out there.
''I had a couple of hits through the year, just mucking around with mates. But I didn't pick up the clubs to seriously go and practice until two weeks ago.''
Welsford and fellow Canberrans Matt Millar and Chris Campbell are in the field for the $1 million tournament, which includes internationals Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell as well as Australian star Adam Scott.
Welsford has been on the Australian circuit for the past three years and finished with a high enough ranking last season to earn exemptions to most tournaments.
When he finishes the masters, he'll compete at the New Zealand Open next week and is confident he can build some form with more practice time.
Going from tournament to tournament is familiar territory.
He made a decision at the end of last year to put his game on the backburner and focus on helping Campbell in Japan.
Campbell had her appendix out during the year and needs a strong finish at her tournament this week to keep her card on the tour and avoid having to go back to qualifying school.
''I didn't really get the itch to play while I was caddying, Nikki does it [plays] better than me anyway,'' Welsford said.
''About a month ago I thought I might get back into it. Nikki's more than happy for me to play. It's only a game of golf, I'm sort of a bit more into it and refreshed.''
Millar finished at the top of the order of merit for the NSW-ACT Pro-Am circuit and is trying to qualify for the Japanese tour.
After finishing 15th at the Australian Open last year, Millar is hoping to break through for his first four-round tournament victory.
''I've been playing pretty well … I've just been taking my foot off the gas a little bit and watching what other people do too much,'' Millar said.
''I should be keeping the foot down and worry about what I'm doing, hopefully I'm sorting through that and can go about my business.''
ROUND ONE TEE TIMES
6.50am: Matt Millar, Ryan Haller, Rohan Blizard. 11.10am: Chris Campbell, Matthew Stieger, Brad Shilton. 11.30am: Damon Welsford, Michael Curtain, Corey Hale.