Straight man Slater leads Gold Medal chase
Keeping out of the cavernous bunkers and the clinging heather is the secret of a solid round over the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa and Ian Slater from Surrey did just that to lead after round one of the Fullers London Pride Gold Medal.
On a strength-sapping hot and humid day, his 37 points off a handicap of two leaves him just a point ahead of Yorkshire’s Graham Blackburn and two clear of the rest of the 79-strong field.
“I only found one bunker and visited the heather just once,” said the 44 year old IT manager from the North Downs club.
On his first visit to England Golf headquarters after winning the medal at his club and finishing second in the regional qualifier at Sutton Green, he added: “I just kept the ball straight and took no risks.”
To underline his superb return, he had three birdies and went round in a gross 74.
A combination of a testing course, unchartered by most of the competitors, and the searing heat, had a telling effect on scoring with only a handful of players matching or beating their handicaps.
But Blackburn, also on his maiden visit to Woodhall Spa, managed to stay cool for his 36 points, 18 on each nine, off a handicap of 17. And the 47 year old was delighted with his single birdie, which came at the 322-yard 17th.
“I drove the ball well at the start and I played well,” he said. “I managed to keep out of the hazards, I was only in one bunker and got out of that first time.
“So I’m pleased but it was a bit tough at times. I had my son Tom as caddie and he kept me calm. My approach play was and my putting was particularly good and it was the best I’ve played for a long time,” he added.
Blackburn, a mechanical engineer from the Flaxby club near Harrogate, only took up golf three years ago after spending most of his time playing badminton and soccer.
This event always attracts players of diverse handicaps and ages. The youngest entrant this time is 11 year old Jack Poulton from the Ivinghoe club near Leighton Buzzard in Buckinghamshire.
Off a handicap of 23, he returned 24 points. Perhaps a far cry from the first Gold Medal in 1997 when Gary Boyd, then an 11 year old, now a winner on the European Tour, came out on top. But who knows what Jack’s golfing future will be.
Image © Tom Ward