2009 SFG Final at The Celtic Manor Golf Club
What an incredible three days it's been for all the SFG's at the Celtic Manor Golf Resort. "It was an experience I will never forget" said Olly Smith (Ashton on Mersey) one of the 10 qualifiers who progressed to play against a host of top professionals in a matchplay event on the impressive 2010 course, the venue for next years prestigious and much anticipated Ryder Cup event.
84 players earned the right to play the Montgomerie course on Monday in a qualifying strokeplay round. Each of them had either qualified on merit through one of the many SFG Open events held throughout the UK over the past year, whilst others won their place through the SFG ballot system.
They all had a 1 in 8 chance to get through with 10 priceless spots up for grabs. The quality of play was excellent on a course which was very demanding and energy sapping. The course was also wet in parts and therefore it played its full distance with no run available. There was no room for error with thick, punishing rough and the greens were undulating and tricky. 10 players emerged as worthy qualifiers with scores ranging from a 68 from the winner, Tim Sholem (Meyrick Park), with final places being earned with 71s.
The 10 qualifiers then made up Team SFG lead by golf legend Peter McEvoy OBE to play the Pro Challenge Team led by this years Solheim Cup captain Alison Nicholas. All the players were provided with matching polo shirts, jumpers, windcheaters courtesy of Glenmuir and also a carry bag, gloves and balls courtesy of Srixon. The proud team were then ushered off for a photo shoot and then off to bed at the impressive Manor Suite at Celtic Manor for a decent night's sleep ahead of 2 days of exciting and memorable match against the famous Pros on the 2010 course. "What an amazing prize", exclaimed delighted qualifier Mike Hearne from Southerndown.
It was an early alarm call for all competitors with the morning foursomes starting at 07:30. First pair out for the Pro Challenge Team were Roger Chapman, with no less than 618 European Tour Events under his belt and Gordon Brand Snr, a man who came runner-up at the Open Championship at Turnberry back in the 1980's, narrowly losing out to Greg Norman. They were up against Will Bowe (Workington) and Simon Kelly (Kidderminster) representing Team SFG. The Professional duo who still play regular golf on the European Senior's Tour were too strong for the young amateurs and posted the first point on the board for the Pros.
Olly Smith, the impressive youngster who qualified from Ashton on Mersey Golf Club, was paired with Justin O'Connell (Hindhead) and they levelled the scores with a comfortable win over ex Ryder Cup player Steve Richardson and current Ladies European Tour player Joanne Morley.
The remaining 3 Foursomes matches were close encounters with John McHenry and Philip Walton defeating Mike Hearne and Stuart Watts (Hoebridge) on the final green. However, Team SFG rallied together showing great determination to claim the last 2 points available. Tim Sholem, the unassuming golfer from Meyrick Park in Dorset and Brad Rowntree from Barnard Castle in Durham squeezed out ex Tour professionals John Hawksworth and Paul Way, whilst Josh Kenny from Sundridge paired up with Mark Fosker from Felixstowe who proceed to edge out Gordon Brand Junior and former Walker Cup player Jeremy Robinson after a close battle.
The matches were finely balanced with Team SFG leading by 3 points to 2 after the Foursomes.
A sumptuous lunch at the newly built 2010 Clubhouse was followed by the Fourball matches. Team SFG consolidated their advantage by winning the first 3 matches with mature displays. Bowe and Watts were worthy winners over Walton and Chapman. Bowe, a cattle farmer from Cumbria was delighted with his performance and insisted, "That is the best I have struck the ball in many weeks".
Kelly and Hearne dispatched ex Ryder Cup stars Richardson and Way with consummate ease which was quickly followed by a win for Smith and Sholem against Brand Senior and Joanne Morley. The score was now 6-2 to Team SFG.
The Pro Challenge Team needed some divine inspiration and that seemed to come from a School Choir who were filming near the final green for the Ryder Cup Charity Tenovus. McHenry and Robinson shared half a point with O'Connell and Kenny before Brand Junior and Hawksworth narrowly defeated Rowntree and Fosker on the last green after a real battle of wits and determination from all four players. An exhausted Hawksworth said, "That was such a great match, I was really revved up and thankfully we just edged them out at the last".
After and exciting first day the scores stood at 6 ½ - 3 ½ in Team SFG's favour. An exciting last day of singles matches was eagerly awaited by all.
A Gala Dinner was held at the Manor on Tuesday evening which proved to be a huge success. Prior to the dinner Captain Peter McEvoy invited his players to the team room for a post-mortem of the day's play and to obviously inspire his team with some words of wisdom on the eve of the crucial singles matches. In stark contrast, Jeremy Robinson, the vice-captain of the Pro Challenge Team escorted his players into the Manor Bar and bought them all a stiff drink. The tactics were worlds apart but Robinson insisted, "This is how I can generate some team bonding!".
The meal itself was first class and much praise should be given to the Celtic Manor catering staff. Then the entertainment followed with an intriguing Questions and Answers session with the Professionals. There were some interesting questions resulting in some entertaining answers. When asked how many putters he had in his Garage? Philip Walton, who seems to be a very popular character amongst his peers, pondered for a while before claiming, "20 long handled ones and about 60 short ones!". The answer was met by roars of laughter before one guest shouted, "Have you ever heard of Ebay!".
The guests were also treated to some Ryder Cup stories from Richardson and Way before John Hawksworth took to the floor with some hilarious memories and anecdotes from his playing days. He also confessed that he had been very nervous ahead of this event and that he had been "restless and revved up in anticipation of the SFG Final", a wonderful testimony to the organisers.
It was then early to bed, well at least for some, with a very important day of golf looming.
Again all players were provided with excellent service and first class facilities at Celtic Manor. After the customary bacon sandwiches and coffee the amateurs and professionals practiced side by side on the Range before making their way apprehensively to the 1st Tee with butterflies in their stomachs.
The Singles matches were eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint. Brand Junior and Olly Smith were the first pairing out and the match went the distance after an enthralling match with both players refusing to back down. A half on the last green seemed like a fair outcome.
John Hawksworth's match with Simon Kelly also went the distance but Kelly unfortunately found the dreaded 'aqua' on the final hole presenting Hawksworth with a victory by 1 hole. A deflated Kelly, a likable character from the Midlands, said "It was such a close match but unfortunately nerves got the better of me and I found the water on the last".
There were comfortable wins for Mark Fosker and Mike Hearne for Team SFG. Fosker, a 5 and 4 victor over Walton, and Hearne defeated Morley by 7 and 6. Morley insisted that "I had no chance, he (Hearne) was 5 under gross when the game ended!".
Tim Sholem, a determined individual, proved too strong for Chapman, running away with a comfortable 6 and 4 victory. "I was delighted with my whole game today, my short game was great, I can't wait to tell all my mates about beating Roger Chapman!".
Yet another exciting match went the distance with a halved match between Irishman McHenry and Brad Rowntree.
Steve Richardson edged out Josh Kenny on the 17th but I'm afraid the writing was already on the wall for the team of household names.
Team SFG, who were superbly lead by Captain McEvoy, were just too strong for their professional counterparts and further victories for Stuart Watts against Brand Snr and a 1up win for Justin O'Connell against Paul Way secured a deserved overall victory for the talented amateurs.
The final result being Team SFG 12 ½ - 7 ½
The presentation was made on the 18th green and after a full group photo the beautiful trophy was presented to a beaming Peter McEvoy and his victorious team of Single Figure Golfers.
Everyone was full of praise about the whole event;
"It's been one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I've learnt so much from playing with the professionals, and playing on the Ryder Cup course has been a privilege" said Bradley Rowntree.
Simon Kelly added, "I'm 48 years old and this is by far the best thing I have ever been involved in, it's been a 'money-can't-buy' occasion. Thanks so much to all the organisers".
A talented Olly Smith, who amassed 2 ½ points from his 3 matches and surely one we will hear about in the future said, "This has been a fantastically run event and what an experience it has been for us all, I really want to come next year".
Tim Sholem claimed, "I shall never forget the experience I have had this week, it's been incredible".
The Professionals were also upbeat about the week;
"I've had a great time and I was delighted to see how talented some of these amateurs are, the future of our game is in good shape", said Ryder Cup star Steven Richardson.
John Hawksworth added, "What a fantastic concept, I'm sure SFG will go from strength to strength".
And Alison Nicholas, a former Women's US Open winner and who was captain of the Pro Team exclaimed, "It's a wonderful idea and I was really pleased that I could get involved, Ideally though I would like to see some lady golfers participating next year so come on girls!"
SFG Chairman, David Hardy, insisted, "SFG is a fantastic concept which I'm convinced will blossom, we are all delighted"
Phil Russ, a friend of the organisers, said "What started as a fun idea over a beer has surpassed all our expectations".
Finally Peter McEvoy, the Captain of Team SFG and an ambassador for the SFG company said, "I'm so proud of my team, it was a lot stronger this year because of the additional qualifying round therefore we had the cream of the crop. We are sure to hear the names of these young guys in the not too distant future. The talent was evident to see".
Everyone involved were extremely grateful to the two owners of SFG, Paul Heming and Rob Millar, and also to the team from Sports Masters International for the superb organisation of this years event.
This year's event has been an overwhelming success and the future looks extremely bright for Single Figure Golfer.
Congratulations to Team SFG (Winners of the 2009 Challenge Cup Final).
See you all at Trevose next year
Loads more pictures can be found here - if you have any you would like to share please let us know - also if you would like any high resolution images from the Finals drop us a line and we will send them over !