Simon Thornton admitted it was a “very special” feeling to win so close to home after claiming the NI Masters title at Clandeboye.
The Bradford-born pro, who now lives in Newcastle, Co Down, shot a bogey-free four-under 67 in his final round to finish 14 under and claim the victory by two strokes over England’s David Langley and lift the PGA EuroPro Tour title.
The win is made even more remarkable in that Thornton, who is the resident professional at Tulfarris Resort in Co Wicklow, holds no status on any Tour and was only playing on an invite this week, and yet defeated a field filled with veteran EuroPro players to lift the trophy.
Backed by Clandeboye member Ross Methven on the bag, the 44-year-old — who flirted with the EuroPro Tour’s first sub-60 round on Wednesday in shooting an 11-under 60 — played steady in driving rain and howling winds to hold off the chasing pack, including playing partners Mitch Waite and Joe Brooks.
Langley propelled himself into the picture with a fine eagle on the 17th to reach 12 under, but Thornton birdied the same hole and closed it out with a safe par on the last to secure the victory.
“I didn’t come here with any expectations, I was here on an invite and I’m not looking to further my career in the game. But it’s great to play in these events. It’s only an hour away from home as well, so to win was very special,” beamed Thornton, who walks away £12,500 richer for his efforts.
“I played lovely today. The conditions suited me. I love hitting punch shots and knock-down shots, trying to think your way around the course. That’s me all over. To shoot four under, no bogeys... yeah, I played lovely.
“Ross kept saying just to be patient. I’m a good putter, so just keep hitting it to 10, 20 feet and give yourself chances and you’ll hole them eventually. It’s an old cliche, but it’s the truth — stay in the moment, take it one shot at a time and keep patient.”
The final round was reduced to a shotgun start due to fog in the morning, with every group starting on the hooter at 2pm, and for most of the day it looked like it would be a three-horse race between the final group.
Waite made the first move with three straight birdies, starting at the fourth, to claim the lead, with Thornton and overnight leader Brooks a shot back, but it was on the back nine things turned in Thornton’s favour.
The Newcastle man took the lead that he would never surrender when he parred the par-five 12th and both Waite and Brooks bogeyed, and he solidified his position with birdies at 13 and 15 as Brooks added another bogey on 14 and Waite did the same at 15.
Instead it was Langley who nearly threw a spanner in the works with a two at the par-four 17th to set the clubhouse mark at 12 under, but Thornton closed it out comfortably for the win.
Usually after a result like this, the inevitable follow-up question would be ‘what’s next?’ But for Thornton, while he admits he might have his head turned by one or two higher profile events, he’s not worried about the answer to that question.
“Listen, I’d love to dip in and dip out, and obviously ideally I’d love to be playing twice a month on the main Tour, but that’s not going to happen. We will have to see,” he said.
“If I can play like that and keep things going, and I love competing, then you don’t know. But my kids are growing up too.
“Not to sound big-headed but I don’t practice. I pitch up, I know I have the tools, and I go out and play. That’s why days like this are so good — because you need to have memories of hitting good shots. I just pull out the clubs and see how I get on.
“This has been such a great event. The volunteers, the golf club, they’ve put on a great show. It’s a great place to come. To have an event like this which can grow from strength to strength over the next few years is fantastic. Who knows where it can go?”