JONNY HEYES is the 2012 Examiner Overseas golf champion after the most exciting of finishes at the re-designed Palmares course, in Lagos, Portugal.
The five-handicapper from Huddersfield Golf Club overcame the considerable challenge placed on him by final day leader Arthur Henshaw to lift the Examiner Salver, and become only the third player in the history of the competition to win both the Examiner Matchplay title and the ensuing Overseas Challenge.
But it took a monumental effort on Heyes’ part as Henshaw simply refused to buckle despite losing his five-point lead as early as the third hole in the final round of the 54-hole tournament, and the result was only decided up the final fairway.
Having taken a one-point lead at the 17th and then having struck a superb drive up the dog-leg 18th, for Henshaw it was a brief case of what ‘might have been’ as he went down by a single point.
The first round of the Examiner Challenge, which opened on a stormy wet Saturday, turned out to be a triumph for the ladies.
In the absence of last year’s leading lady Julie Padgett, it looked on paper that Woodhall Hills golfer Sue Morse – who won the overall title in 2007 in Fuengirola and was eventually to finish in an excellent fourth place overall – would have little opposition in her bid to lift the Ladies trophy once again as she carded 36 points in the opening round.
However, she found a tough adversary on the first day in Bingley St Ives’ Maureen Craven, who finished the round just a point behind, along with Crosland Heath’s Noel Ward, while Outlane’s David Makin, Henshaw, from Meltham and Nick Wilson from Fixby all signed for 34 points.
But if it was all about the ladies on day one, then the second round was a triumph for 22-handicapper Henshaw, who notched a magnificent 25 points as he blazed round the nine-hole Praia section of Palmares, which included four nett birdies and a nett eagle on the 483m par five second.
Two further pars at the start of the Alvor section lifted him to 29 points, and although the next four holes only produced a single point, his eventual 37-point haul sent him soaring to the top of the leaderboard as he ended the day with an aggregate of 71, three points clear of Ward (a 17-handicapper) and four in front of another Crosland Heath man, Adrian Wallis (playing off 9), who had matched Henshaw with a 37-point second round tally.
At that stage Heyes had ominously moved into fourth place on 66, with his Fixby colleague Wilson on 64, while Sue Morse’s challenge had faded slightly after carding 27.
And so to the final day, when the competitors were faced with the Lagos and Praia configuration of Palmares’ new 27-hole complex.
Leader Henshaw managed just three points over the opening four holes, while Heyes accumulated nine and Wallis eight, suggesting the highest handicapper in the last fourball would possibly fade under the pressure.
But nothing could be further from the truth as Henshaw hit back with another three nett birdies, to hang on to a one-point lead over Heyes at the turn with 85 points, with Wallis just two further back on 83 – the exhausted Ward having tailed off and out of the running.
By now it was nip and tuck with Heyes birdieing the 15th, while Henshaw put together a run of three nett birdies in succession.
The last of those came at the par three 17th when the Meltham man stood on the tee trailing by one point.
But he came off the green one point ahead after a superb up and down from a steep valley in front of the green, holding his nerve with a solid six-footer despite the greens having lost their laminate-like sheen.
The momentum had suddenly changed with Henshaw now one point ahead and with two shots on his handicap on the final hole and Wallis out of the equation.
Both Henshaw and Heyes struck good drives up the par 5 18th, although Heyes did flirt with some bushes on the left while his main rival was up the centre of the course but further back.
Both played their second shot with Heyes some 40m or so off the green after a brilliant four iron, while Henshaw had left his ball much further back, and that is when disaster struck as he attempted to find the green with his third, and took a three-wood which he mis-hit and promptly put his ball into an approach bunker.
Worse was to follow, however, as he failed to get out of the sand with his fourth and took two more shots to get onto the green some, 18ft short of the pin.
Heyes – who also had one stroke at the index four hole – had got on the ‘dance floor’ in three, although leaving himself a 40-footer, which he pushed 5ft wide.
Henshaw was unable to hole his long-range putt and was down for eight, while Heyes sank his putt for a gross par, nett birdie, a third-round total of 38 points, and a one-point win.
It was a fantastic victory which deserved a fanfare at the following presentation ceremony – indeed a watching home member offered to bring her trombone in, but it was declined!
“I thought it had gone at the 17th,” said Heyes, whose wife Janet had caddied for him every round of the holiday.
“Having caught him up early in the round I was fairly confident, but full marks to Arthur, he just kept clawing his way back and I found myself having to birdie the 15th just to stay with him.
“I was very nervous standing over my tee shot on the 18th where, although I had a shot, I knew I had to get down in no worse than par.
“I just told myself ‘if he is going to win it, he’s going to have to earn it!’
“Obviously, I’m absolutely thrilled to have won the competition – I’d have been thrilled just to have beaten Nick (Wilson) – but this is just the icing on the cake.
“It was my first-ever Examiner trip and it’s been brilliant. Everyone has been very friendly, and there has been some great banter during the week.
“But at the same time everyone has also still been extremely competitive with everyone trying to win the tournament and I offered my commiseration's to Arthur who played really well.
“I also want to give a huge thanks to my wife Janet who caddied for me and who has been absolutely brilliant and kept me calm when things were getting very tense.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week and I’m planning to return again next year to defend the title.”
Although this was Heyes’ first Examiner Overseas Challenge it was the second attempt for the runner-up, who hadn’t figured in the shake-up 12 months ago.
“By George, I’m getting closer!” remarked a sporting Henshaw after swallowing his disappointment at the end. “Hopefully next year I’ll get that one more step further.”
Wallis finished in an excellent third place, with Sue Morse (delighted at beating husband John) in fourth, while also winning the Leading Lady prize from Wendy Dufton, of Bingley St Ives.
Winner: Jonny Heyes (5, Huddersfield) 32, 34, 38=104; runner-up: Arthur Henshaw (22, Meltham) 34, 37, 32=103; 3rd Adrian Wallis (9, Crosland Heath) 30, 37, 31=98; 4th Sue Morse (12, Woodhall Hills) 36, 27, 33=96; 5th Robin Hanson (14, Woodhall Hills) 28, 34, 33=95; 6th David Makin (16, Outlane) 34, 27, 33=94; 7th Jack Thewlis (14, Meltham) 30, 29, 34=93; 8th Wendy Dufton (16, Bingley St Ives) 29, 30, 33=92; 9th Brian Wilson (13, Branshaw) 29, 34, 29=92; 10th Dave Law (8, Meltham) 28, 31, 31=90.