Fair-haired Andy Willey played the role of dark horse to perfection in winning the Titleist and FootJoy PGA Professional Championship at Little Aston. Three sub-par negotiations of a regular Open Championship qualifying venue in superb condition had him shadowing the tournament’s pacemakers.
Come the halfway stage of the fourth and final round, however, he was still three shots adrift of Paul O’Hara, the defending champion. The deficit remained with six holes to go but then O’Hara, seemingly on course to become the first man to retain the trophy since fellow Scot David Huish in 1988, faltered.
By contrast, Willey, who represents Oakmere Park Golf Club, Nottinghamshire, produced a cocktail of sang froid and red-hot putting to claim the £10,000 first prize and use of a Peugeot car for a year. He admitted afterwards that putting has often proved the weak spot in his game, not that that was apparent as he signed off with a bogey-free six-under-par round of 66 to finish 16-under for the tournament on 272.
“I’ve always said putting has been one of my downfalls,” he said. “But it’s been amazing all day. I holed so many today – I couldn’t put a foot wrong. Everything I hit went in.”
Not least on the par-five 15th when he holed a 25-footer to reduce the deficit to one. That was erased when O’Hara, playing in the two-ball behind, bogeyed the 16th and a play-off was in the offing – until Willey was on the 18th green. There he holed another 25-footer for a birdie to deliver the coup de grace.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure how we stood,” he recalled. “I had an inkling I might be level with him so I was thinking get it close and don’t do anything silly. The putt was straight up the hill, slightly left to right and it was a question of getting the pace right as I’d got the lines right all day. Thankfully it just dropped in lovely and I’m chuffed to bits. I’ve been playing in the PGA Midland region for a while now and winning Order of Merit events and pro-ams. But I said to myself this year I’d love to win a big event, a national one.
“I’ve been through to the PGA Play-Offs two or three times but I’ve not pushed on from there and qualified for BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. So to win today is fantastic – it gets me through to the Play-Offs and hopefully I can push on from there and get to Wentworth.”
In addition to qualifying for the end of season PGA Play-Offs in Turkey, where he will be joined by O’Hara, Willey has taken a positive step towards earning a place in the Great Britain and Ireland PGA Cup team that will take on the USA in Texas next year.
He has accumulated 20 of the possible 50 points that are available – winning next year’s tournament is worth an additional 30 – and O’Hara, who earned £6,240, has 19 while James Freeman, who began the day as tournament leader, has 18 after finishing third.
Meanwhile, although Willey’s flawless six-under-par round clinched victory, the best of the day was produced by Chris Kelly from Golf in Scotland.
In a scorching start that matched the temperatures at Little Aston all week, he went eagle, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie en route to route to posting a seven-under-par round of 65 and finishing fourth.
Leading scores: Andrew Willey (Oakmere Park Golf Club) -16; Paul O’Hara (North Lanarkshire Leisure Limited) -15; James Freeman (Retford Golf Club) -14; Chris Kelly (Golf in Scotland) -13; Michael Ramsden (Renishaw Park Golf Club), Jason Levermore (Little Channels Golf Centre), Jordan Godwin (Barnehurst Golf Club) -12.
Titleist was the overwhelming ball of choice, being trusted by over 75% of the field and also led no fewer than five equipment counts, emphasising the trust placed in Titleist at all levels of the game.
Images of Andy Willey (courtesy of Lynne Cameron, Getty Images)
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