I’m about to write something I’ve had dreams about since the days of persimmon woods and Titleist balatas, back when Rory McIlroy was merely a twinkle in his father’s eye. Right, here we go I’m The Masters Champion.
Four gruelling rounds of golf in a tense and competitive cauldron, a close examination of physical but, more crucially, mental ability and, somehow, I managed to come out on top. On Saturday evening, by the sea defences at the end of the second hole at Royal North Devon, I was helped into the Brown Jacket and was presented the Silver Salver as Champion Golfer for the year.
The more observant amongst you will, by now, be beginning to ask some questions. I thought Trevor Immelman won the Masters this year? Brown Jacket? Royal North Devon? Saturday? Yes, well done Sherlock, the Masters I won wasn’t the one from Augusta shown on the BBC every April. Though I would have thought it’s only a matter of time before the Cornish Masters, makes its way onto the TV schedules.
If anything the Cornish Masters is a tougher examination of golfing prowess than Bobby Jones’ famous invitational. At the Cornish version, not only do you have to produce golf of the highest order around testing courses, but you also have to deal with clever psychological abuse from your fellow competitors, your body has to endure three rounds played with an appalling hangover and you have to overcome judicious handicap reductions (by the end of the week I was playing off +2.)
The first round was played at Burnham and Berrow on the coast to the south of Weston-Super-Mare. I wasn’t sure how I would fare as I hadn’t played for eight days. As a result I was maintaining low expectations a key motto in my life is, Expect the worst then you can never be disappointed.
After a few decent pars, however, I quickly realised my game hadn’t deserted me during the week off and I snuck round in 35 Stableford points. After round one I was sitting in second place behind Golf Monthly’s Neil Tappin.
Day two followed a night out in Bideford that involved: cooking lager, karaoke and a kebab. Nobody in the 12-man field was feeling in tip-top shape as we pulled into the car park at Saunton where the second round of the competition was to be played on the testing East Course.
The rough was extremely punishing and, playing the course for the first time is intimidating to say the least many of the fairways appear narrower than George W Bush’s mind. A couple of lost balls and some dismal chipping meant I limped in with 28 points. I thought I had probably played myself out of contention.
So I decided to relax at lunch and enjoyed a few restorative beers with my chilli and chips. I set out to tackle the West Course (third round) with my expectations back towards the rocky end of bottom. But, incredibly, I played possibly my best round of the year. I knocked it round in one under par and it could have been quite a few shots better had I not missed some fairly straightforward putts. 38 points was enough to throw me right back into the mix, just one point off the lead.
Round four followed a night out in Bideford that involved: curry, cooking lager but no karaoke unfortunately. It was played at Royal North Devon and, as I mentioned before, I’d been cut to +2. Part of me was quite proud to be playing off such a low handicap but another part felt it probably put me out of the running. But a gritty display saw me round in 31 points this included two self-inflicted penalty shots: one when my ball ricocheted off a bunker face and hit my leg, the next when my ball inexplicably moved on the green after I’d addressed it.
As I holed an eight-foot par putt on the 18th green (for one point as it’s S.I 18) it looked as though I’d won. But Neil Tappin had used his abacus incorrectly and, in fact, he and I were tied. It meant the first playoff in the history of the Cornish Masters.
With nerves jangling we teed off and made our way down the par five first with the other ten patrons following as spectators. Two uneventful pars were recorded on hole one so we moved on. I hit a pull off the tee at the second but luckily avoided any major trouble, Tappers boomed one down the middle. I played first and I fired a three iron low and straight towards the green. It fell just off the back right edge. Neil missed the green right and chipped up to 15 feet. I putted up to stone dead and when Neil’s putt missed I was victorious. Cue thunderous applause, whooping and shouts of Youdaman! Or actually, just a spot of polite clapping.
I’ve played in quite a few competitions over the years but I don’t think I ever feel as nervous as I do in the Cornish Masters. We’re all friends (or just about) but the golf is taken extremely seriously and everyone wants to perform to the best of their ability. It’s a fine example of why our game is so great: it can be ultra competitive but there’ll still be great banter and more than a few beers. I can’t wait for next year when The Masters celebrates its 10th anniversary. I just hope I get an invite.