Golf is a difficult sport, as just about any player of the sport knows all too well. Even pro golfers are constantly going in and out of form, often without any idea as to why. The same can be true of golf tournaments. The history of the European Tour is littered with events which used to be among the best of the year but are now either after thoughts or no longer held at all, so it is great when a tournament goes the other way, returning to former glories.
The revamping of the British Masters is a real success story. This is a tournament first held way back in 1946 with a list of previous winners that includes European golfing royalty such as Tony Jacklin, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and both Christy O’Connor Senior and Junior, plus international stars such as Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson.
It was a real shame that the British Masters fell off the European Tour schedule entirely in 2009 but it was reimagined for the 2015 edition to tour some of the best golf courses Britain has to offer and with a big name host to add some star quality. That format has proved a huge hit and it is great to see another top level event being played on these shores.
|2020||Close House Golf Club||Renato Paratore|
|2019||Hillside Golf Club||Marcus Kinhult|
|2018||Walton Heath Golf Club||Eddie Pepperell|
|2017||Close House Golf Club||Paul Dunne|
2020: Renato Paratore
The 2020 British Masters was an especially important renewal. It was just the second European Tour event after the four-month pause in professional golf and could only take place with strict health and safety protocols. Lee Westwood and Close House stepped back into the fold to host and while it felt very different to the 2017 edition that had been played at the same venue (as there were no fans in attendance) that was only of slight concern to Renato Paratore who had clearly been reinvigorated by the four month break.
The Italian was wonderful from start to finish. His first round of only his second tournament ended in a 65 and he followed that up with a pair of 66s on Friday and Saturday. He was a little shakier on Sunday by the high standards of the rest of the week but a round of 69 was plenty good enough to see out the job with Rasmus Hojgaard three shots behind in second place.
Paratore was talked up as a potential world class player when he won his first European Tour event in 2017. It took him three years to win again but the high regard in which he is held by his fellow pros was obvious when a number them gave him a guard of honour to make up for the absence of fans.
2019: Marcus Kinhult
Despite some behind the scenes scrambling to secure a sponsor and a future for the British Masters, the tournament had yet another top class combination of host course and player. Tommy Fleetwood was delighted to take the tournament home to Southport and Hillside Golf Club was an excellent venue. The only downside for Fleetwood was that he was not able to put together more of a challenge (even though he finished with a very respectable -10) but he could take nothing away from Marcus Kinhult who made his European Tour breakthrough courtesy of a one stroke win.
Kinhult was made to earn his victory in a tense final day of action. He held his own the whole way through the tournament but by the time he stood over his ball for his final tee shot he was level on 15 under par with Matt Wallace, Robert MacIntyre and defending champion Eddie Pepperell – high class opposition. The latter two had already finished their round and were hopeful their tournament would be extended into a playoff. The Swede had other ideas though and having set up an eight-foot birdie chance he made the right read, took a deep breath and rolled in the putt for that all important first European Tour win.
2018: Eddie Pepperell
The British Masters went from the North East in 2017 to the South East in 2018 as Walton Heath and Justin Rose hosted the tournament. Rose was always going to be a great host of the British Masters and he proved it in a light-hearted Twitter exchange with Eddie Pepperell before the tournament began. That exchange ended with Rose handing Pepperell a chocolate bar and that treat clearly did the trick as the week ended with Rose handing Pepperell the British Masters Trophy.
Rose was himself very happy with his performance which saw him finish inside the top 10 but he never got close to seriously challenging Pepperell. The popular English golfer took the lead on Thursday with a hole in one on the ninth, the ball hitting the flag before spinning back into the hole, and he never relinquished that position.
It wasn’t just the quality of the opposition that Pepperell had to beat that made this such an impressive win. He had to cope with the expectation both of his early lead and the support of the crowd. In addition, he saw his lead cut to just one stroke on Sunday in incredibly challenging conditions. When things were at their toughest, Pepperell produced another bit of magic with an eagle on the 10th. There was a lot to like about his performance but Pepperell gave the credit for his finish to his mum who handed him a pair of mitts when the temperature plummeted in the middle of his round. You can always rely on mum!
2017: Paul Dunne
Lee Westwood was the tournament host for the 2017 British Masters. He treated golf fans from the North East to a cracking tournament at Close House Golf Club, which is just outside of Newcastle. Rory McIlroy was the biggest draw of the lot and he threatened to delight the watching galleries with what would have been a hugely popular win but in the end he fell three shots shy of Paul Dunne who became the first Irish winner of the British Masters since Christy O’Connor Jnr in 1992.
As you would expect with a four time major champion chasing him down, Dunne’s victory was a real test of nerve. It was by no means a case of simply hanging on and doing enough to win. The pressure brought the best out of Dunne who started brilliantly and then had to go again. After making the turn in just 30 shots, the engravers were almost called into action but then McIlroy decided to make things very interesting with birdies in five of his last seven holes.
McIlroy’s stunning finish left Dunne leading by just a single stroke on the 17th tee. That is a whole lot of pressure for a player without a European Tour, so it is to Dunne’s immense credit that he made birdie on both 17 and 18 to earn a very well deserved win.