Brad Sarjantson claimed victory in The Gazette/Blacktax Matchplay Golf final in Portugal ... and had a lucky smurf to thank for it.
The 42-year-old who plays out of De Vere Herons Reach, survived a brilliant comeback from Warren Beardsmore in a dramatic final at The Old Course in Vilamoura on the Algarve.
It was among the most exciting finishes in the long history of The Gazette competition, again generously sponsored by taxi firm Blacktax.
More than 300 golfers over the Fylde coast entered, with the final four being flown to the Algarve for the semi-finals and final.
Sarjantson played some outstanding golf throughout, but revealed it was a gift from his nine-year-old daughter Candice which inspired the win. Before the competition my daughter gave me a smurf which has been on my golf bag all the way,” he said. “It’s fair to say it’s a lucky smurf, so it will be staying on my bag now!”
The eight-handicaper saw-off fellow De Vere member Mike Atton in a thrilling semi-final before a comfortable-looking final almost turned sour. Sarjantson found himself six up with five holes to play after three pars and a birdie in the opening four holes.
But with the finish line in sight, Beardsmore almost pulled off the comeback of all comebacks to be only one behind going into the 17th.
Brad said: “I set off like a rocket in the final and was one under after five holes. After 10 holes I found myself five holes up and I was cruising.
“I found myself five up with six to play but then I started leaking holes badly.
“I seemed to have lost it and maybe went a bit defensive. For some reason I got a little bit tense and the nerves got the better of me.
“Warren played some fantastic golf on the back nine and almost made a fantastic comeback. In the end I was able to nick it on 17 after he put his second shot into the bunker.
“I managed to par the 17th with a good eight footer. I’m glad we didn’t have to go down 18 – my nerves would have gone!”
The competition has been going over 25 years and remains one of the most popular tournaments on the Fylde coast. After battling through the Shaw Hill quarter-finals last month, the final four were flown out for a three-night luxury stay in Vilamoura, joined by host and match referee Ian Wharmby of Blacktax.
As well as wonderful five-star accommodation, the organisers treated the competitors to matches on two of Vilamoura’s finest courses. They played the Millennium for the semi-finals before the two finalists fought it out at the prestigious Old Course.
In Thursday’s practice round, the atmosphere was friendly but the competitive edge was clear for everyone to see.
It was Mike Atton who caught the eye and was everyone’s tip for to win the tournament. Winner Sarjantson explained: “The practice round gave us a chance to get to know each other’s game.
“At the end of it we all looked at Mike as the dangerman, especially playing off 15.
“When Will from The Gazette pulled me out of the draw to play him and I thought, ‘Crikey!’
“But I had a tough quarter final against Simon Firth, so I haven’t had an easy run. I had a great start in the semi-final and went round the front nine level par.
“But he was playing well, so I had to stick with him. I was one down going into the 16th hole but I managed to win that and birdie 17th too. A par was enough to secure the win.”
It’s the second year running Sarjantson has made it to the showpiece Portugal final four. Last time around he was a losing semi-finalist, which made him even more determined this time.
“The prize is getting to Portugal but once you are here everyone wants to win, it’s only natural. I’d urge other people to enter this next year. I will be telling everyone I know. For ten pounds you can’t ask for any more.
“I want to thank The Gazette and the brilliant hosts at Blacktax. Ian was the perfect host, without them this competition just wouldn’t happen.”
After two days of tough golf, Sarjantson showed emotion on the 17th green when the victory was clinched.
He revealed it was his dad Ronnie, who passed away two years ago, who first encouraged him to enter.
“I want to dedicate the win to my dad. This one is for him,” he said proudly. “He always told me to go and win this competition, so it’s down to him.