17 May 19
South Africa-based Neil Cheetham won the Senior PGA Professional Championship at Foxhills to justify making and financing the long journey from Johannesburg to Surrey on at least two counts.
Not only has the £6,000 winner’s cheque more than covered the cost of the trip, the victory has qualified him to play in the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship at the London Club in August.
A place in the top 15 would have achieved that objective, so adding his name to a list of winners that includes the late Tommy Horton was a welcome addition.
“My main goal was to try and get in the top 15 and qualify for the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship later in the year,” said Cheetham, who has worked in South Africa for the past dozen years.
“So winning the tournament was a real bonus – it’s a fantastic achievement for me.”
Given that the 51-year-old went into the last round leading the tournament and nine shots clear of 15th place, the key element of his mission was effectively guaranteed.
His prospects of claiming the trophy and first prize were less certain by contrast, not least because he began the final negotiation of the Bernard Hunt course at the Surrey resort with Darren Prosser just a shot behind.
However, come the fifth hole after Prosser had endured a nightmare start that cost him four shots and Cheetham had recorded two birdies, the gap had increased to seven.
To all intents and purposes Cheetham appeared home and hosed, that is until he wobbled at the 16th and 17th and, with Prosser (above) remaining bogey-free from five onwards and posting three birdies, his advantage was down to three.
Reflecting on the turnaround in fortunes, Cheetham admitted: “I had some anxious moments coming down the stretch.
“Apart from making a silly error on the ninth when I three-putted for a bogey, I played beautifully until I got to 16.”
In the event, both players made par at the last, resulting in Cheetham posting a one-under-par round of 72 to finish eight-under for the tournament, three shots clear of Prosser and six ahead of John King, the defending champion.
Despite rueing his disastrous start, Prosser, who runs the Kingswinford Golf Centre in the West Midlands and became eligible to play in senior events in November, was happy with his overall performance.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening on those three holes,” said Prosser. “But I managed to turn things round and, as this was my debut as a senior, it’s great to play competitively again. Qualifying for the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship is a real plus point and I’m looking forward to it.”
So, too, is Cheetham. First, though, there is some pressing business in South Africa to attend to.
“I’ve got some teaching to do and I own the pro shop at the Wanderers Golf Club,” he added.
“And I’ve got a Sunshine Tour senior event just before I come back in July to try and qualify for the Senior British Open.
“It’s being staged at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s this year – I played in the Open there in 2001 so I’ve got fond memories of that place. It would be nice to do the double and play in that event as well.”
Full scores can be accessed via this link:
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