Norton’s 69 sets the championship pace

Saunton

Yorkshire’s Richard Norton wasted no time in making an impact on his debut appearance in the English senior men’s championship – setting the first round pace at Saunton Golf Club, Devon, on two-under par.

Norton is stepping on to the national stage for the first time, having turned 55 in March, and he promptly shot 69 on the West course. It gives him a three-shot lead over the rest of the field with 13 players grouped on one-over.

“It’s my first senior championship and I’ve shot under par so I’m very happy with that,” said Norton, who is a member at Beverley and East Riding Golf Club, near Hull.

His practice round, played in strong winds, wasn’t auspicious. “I lost four balls and thought ‘oh dear.’ But my first tee shot today felt smooth and it just went from there.”

He was level par going out with a birdie and a bogey balancing each other – and then played the back nine in two-under, holing a long putt on the 10thand a 10-footer on the 15thfor his birdies.

Norton was among the earlier starters, who enjoyed the breezy sunshine. But by mid-afternoon rain set in, adding an extra dimension to the challenge of Saunton’s two magnificent courses.

The chasing pack includes Yorkshire’s Johnny Lawrence (Moor Allerton), pictured right, who had a hole-in-one on the 16th, following a chip-in eagle three on the third.  He took an eight-iron for his 172-yard shot to the 16thwhich provided him with his fifth ace.

“I played nicely,” he said afterwards. “It was tough out there but the course was beautiful. It’s fantastic here with two unbelievable courses.”

Among the other players sharing second place are the senior internationals Stephen East (Leeds Golf Centre), Alan Mew (Stoneham) and David Niven (Newbury & Crookham), who was runner-up last year. “I played steadily,” said Niven, who was on the West. “It’s a course which makes you really think.”

They’re joined by Trevor Foster (Accrington & District), Mark Williams (Tidworth Garrison), Jon Wright (Wildernesse), Rupert Kellock (Sunningdale), George Wilson (Calcot Park), Richard Darlington (Royal Ashdown Forest), Nick Grimmitt (Glamorganshire), Doug Cameron (Moor Park) and Paul Wharton (John O'Gaunt)?

Two of the most notable scores of the day were the 74 of England senior captain Roy Smethurst (Crewe) and the 75 of Ashley Brewer (Denham), who captained BB&O to victory in the 2015 Senior County Finals.

Smethurst played to his age with his 74 and joked afterwards: “It’s going to be a bit easier in two weeks’ time because I’ll turn 75!”

He’s been matching – or beating – his age since he was 65, capping a career which has seen him win four English senior titles – more than anyone else – and one British.

Brewer, meanwhile, had a kidney removed at the end of January after a tumour was discovered and returned to golf only in April. He’s using a buggy to get round, admits to getting exhausted, but says: “I’m loving it.”

His test results are looking good and he’s following the advice of his consultant who said: “Get on with your life, enjoy the summer and hole some putts.”

Defending champion Richard Latham, who also won in 2013, was disappointed with his opening 79 on the East course, which put him among a group of 28 players on eight-over, including the host club’s Paul Vicary, who also played the East

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Pictured top: Saunton Golf Club (images © Leaderboard Photography)