Late birdie blitz steers East to Seniors crown

2014 champion Stephen East

Stephen East, the new kid on the senior bloc, staged a grandstand finish to win the English Senior Men’s Championship as summer fittingly returned to Matfen Hall.

The competitive Yorkshireman carded a five-under-par 67 with birdies at the closing three holes to take the title by three strokes from Cheshire’s Alastair Brown and Andrew Stracey from BB&O.

As a newcomer to this code of golf, East (image © Leaderboard Photography) was arguably one of the favourites. He turned 55 last October, lost a playoff for the Italian Open in his maiden seniors event, claimed his first title in the Spanish Seniors and last week finished joint second in the Irish event.

It’s been quite a baptism for East at senior level but little fazes him although securing the English national title brought him some relief.

“You don’t know how delighted I am to win this title,” he said. “I feel I’ve got to keep proving myself but this win helps no end. It’s nice to win again after doing well in the mid amateur game but becoming a senior is like starting all over again.

“This is a new level where I can compete and I’m having a nice little run. Long may it continue.”

With the normal 54-hole championship reduced to a single round shootout after the first day was cancelled through continual rain, it was anyone’s title to win.

All of those with England senior caps to their credit were fancied but those who are well bedded-in in the senior game are always looking over their shoulders at the newcomers who are keen to make a mark and frequently do.

Defending champion Richard Latham was last year’s ‘new boy’ who grabbed the crown in fine fashion in Bristol. He was expected to be in the shake-up this time and he didn’t disappoint. But his 71 was only good enough for equal fourth place despite his reaching the turn in two under along with former champion David Lane.

But few got the better of Matfen Hall’s homeward stretch, but East bucked the trend with his spectacular finish in which he pulled clear of the field. He was sharing the lead with Stracey with a handful of holes to play but birdies at the 16th, 17th and 18th was too much for the rest to handle.

On the par five 16, East hit his approach to three feet and holed out, then at the 193-yard 17th he fired a four iron to 12 feet with the same result. At the last he was left with a five-footer and in it went. Overall, East had eight birdies on his card, good enough to win any title.

Stracey’s 70 included three birdies as he covered both nines in 35, a performance he described as “a boring round” while Brown found five birdies in his 70 after missing the cut in Ireland last week.

Latham made a solid defence of the title but after reaching the turn in 34, couldn’t buy a birdie on the homeward holes and a dropped shot at the 17th denied him a share of second spot.

The remarkable David Lane, still sporting a handicap of one at the age of 72, won the 65 and over age group with his 72, while Richard Wood on 71 took the 55-59 group and Peter Higgins the 60-64 group with his 74.

But the day belonged to East and for someone with such a remarkable playing career, an England cap has passed him by. He was a reserve 12 years ago and was denied by injury on another occasion. But it is virtually certain a senior call-up is on the cards.

“I certainly hope so,” he added.