Inspirational Thornton earns plaudits


1706Irish Simon Thornton

Golf legend Gary Player was among the many heaping plaudits on to Irish PGA Professional Simon Thornton after his maiden European Tour title at Saint Omer.

English-born, but now an Irish citizen, Thornton’s golfing rags to riches story – he was playing off a seven handicap just a decade ago – has captured the imagination.

Nine-time major winner Player, tweeted “Congratulations Simon Thornton on your @European_Tour victory at Saint Omar, France. Hard to believe you were a 7 handicap just 10 years ago”.

Thornton scooped the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open title in a play-off with South Africa’s Tjaart Van der Walt – having sank a 10-foot putt to force the sudden death shootout.

His success has capped a fairytale rise to the upper echelons of elite level golf which began under the expert eye of Royal County Down head pro Kevan Whitson.

Taken on at the club as a temporary summer placement, Thornton impressed with his attitude, sufficient to be taken on to the PGA training programme by Whitson.

“Simon was a very good athlete, very good rugby and football player but in terms of golf he was extremely raw,” recalled Whitson.

“He was quite a good ball striker but with precious little else. However we got to work on him, and through sheer hard work and application he got to the point where he won on the region and then decided to play full time.

“But he came through the full PGA training programme, did all the coaching, shop duties and all other things an assistant has to do. While doing all this though he was working tirelessly on his golf and to see him win on the European Tour is fantastic.

"It shows if you have the right attitude, desire and belief then anything is possible.”

Michael McCumiskey, secretary of The PGA in Ireland, echoed those sentiments and described Thornton as an inspiration to PGA Professionals who still harbour playing hopes.

“We’ve been inundated with people calling in to wish Simon congratulations including the Irish captain Jimmy Bolger who wanted to send him a congratulatory text,” said McCumiskey.

“Simon is an inspiration and his achievement in winning a European Tour event speaks for itself. We always knew he was a good player, he won the Irish PGA Championship at Seapoint in distinctive fashion in 2011, following in the footsteps of some great Irish golfers such as Bradshaw, O’Connor and Harrington.

“We were thrilled to see him win at St Omer, not just for his personal success, but because he is flying the flag for the Irish PGA circuit where he cut his teeth and showing that, like other club pros such as Brendan McGovern and Damien McGrane, it is possible to go on and realise your dreams at the highest level through training as a PGA Professional and then playing in PGA regional and national events.”

An emotional Thornton dedicated his Father’s Day victory to his late father, who passed away three years ago.

“It’s so big for me,” said a tearful Thornton. “On father’s day too, he passed away three years ago and it still hurts, but they are happy tears today. This is dedicated to him.”

Born in Bradford, England, he moved to Ireland to become an Assistant Professional at Royal County Down before rising from the Irish professional ranks to the Challenge Tour and then to The European Tour.

“Hopefully this is a stepping stone for me,” said Thornton, who carded the first hole in one of his professional career on the third day in France. “I’ll go home this week now and celebrate, take a week off, and then play in the Irish Open.

“To come here and play like I did is incredible. What happens now with this category is fantastic, it’s mad how things have changed. It’s surreal.”

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