Ten years after winning his maiden title, Kevin Keating became a two-time champion of the prestigious Gazette Matchplay golf tournament at the weekend in Portugal.
The Lytham Green Drive Golf Club member first won the competition a decade ago as a fresh-faced 18-year-old – and remains the youngest winner of the event.
Now a little older and wiser, the talented two-handicapper got his hands on the trophy once again after an impressive and assured performance over two days at the Sir Henry Cotton Championship course at the Penina Hotel and Golf Resort on the Algarve.
He had won through to the final four of the competition – and an all-expenses-paid trip to Portugal generously funded by sponsors Blacktax Taxis – by winning six matches alongside fellow finalists Darren Frame, Glenn Riches and Richard Anderson.
After the semi-finals held last Friday, it was Keating and Frame who won the right to contest the grand final a day later.
Giving away eight shots to 12-handicapper Frame, 28-year-old Keating opened up a two-shot lead at the turn.
After the opening five holes were halved, Keating, who works as a bookkeeper, took a firm grip on proceedings by winning the next three.
He parred the sixth after firing his tee shot to within 15 feet and then watched Frame make bogey.
The next two holes followed a similar path with Keating’s greater consistency on the greens helping his cause.
With a shot to his advantage on the ninth, Frame – a member of Herons Reach – clawed a shot back but Keating quickly restored his three-shot cushion when his 34-year-old opponent dumped his tee shot into the water on the 10th.
However, Frame dug in to cut his opponent’s lead to just one by winning the next two holes; a birdie on the par five 11 particularly memorable.
With a shot to his advantage over the 13th and 14th, the stage looked set for Frame, who is a plasterer, to take charge of proceedings. But despite parring the 13th, his opponent escaped with a half thanks to a brilliant birdie and then made par on the next to keep his lead intact.
A superb 30ft putt on the 16th handed Keating another birdie and put him two shots ahead with two to play.
A terrific chip to within five feet on the long par five 17th gave Keating another chance for a birdie and it was an opportunity he did not waste as he sealed victory with a hole to spare.
The Green Drive member had earlier won through to the final by getting the better of 64-year-old Riches in the semi-final.
A nine-handicapper, Riches – who works in a bank – played some excellent golf but was left facing an uphill battle after the eventual champion had scorched five ahead after the opening nine holes.
It was true that Keating had benefited from some luck along the way, especially on the fifth when his second shot went through the green and hit a tree before bouncing back into play.
Fleetwood Golf Club member Riches showed guts to cut Keating’s lead to three by winning the 11th and 12th.
But the match was all over on the par three 16th after Keating arrowed his tee shot to within a couple of feet of the hole to win by four and two.
Afterwards, the winner expressed his delight at the way he had performed across the weekend.
“I feel like I have actually played really solidly,” he said.
“Apart from three double bogeys in the semi-final, if you take them out of the equation I have shot six under for the last 34 holes.
“So my golf has been really good. I have not really made too many errors apart from a few lost balls.
“I maybe got a bit of fortune in my semi-final against Glenn. I hit trees three times in the first 10 holes and I could see Glenn slowly seething.
“When I did it a third time on the 10th, I could see Glenn thinking, ‘What is going on?’
“But he’s a true gentleman and took it on the chin.
“I thought all three games were played in great spirit.”
After winning the tournament for the second time, Keating is hoping he won’t have to wait another decade for his next victory.
“I have entered this competition every year since the age of 17 when I was eligible to do so, and apart from when I won it, I have never got close to getting to the final weekend,”said Keating.
“I think the best I have done is getting to the last 32 and that shows how difficult it is to win.
“I have won the Fylde Order of Merit two times in a row, but this is definitely one of the biggest tournaments I have won.
“It is a different format because it’s matchplay and it’s a longer grind.
“We are doing this from the middle of April, so it’s five months to get here.
“Including the semi-final and final, it’s eight matches you have to win.
“It’s a huge achievement for anybody.”
Arguably, the most exciting match across the two days was Frame’s semi-final contest against St Annes’ resident Anderson, who works in the housing department at Fylde Council.
In a match which ebbed and flowed and saw the lead change hands several times, it was Frame who eventually prevailed after a one-hole play-off.
After taking an early lead after three, Frame found himself a hole behind after five and that remained the case as the pair headed to the 12th tee.
However, he levelled after eight-handicapper Anderson failed to sink a putt at the 12th and then moved ahead at the 15th after making par.
A poor approach shot by Frame at the 17th handed Anderson the chance to draw level and he took full advantage by sinking a terrific putt.
On the 18th, Anderson found himself in all sorts of trouble after his tee shot landed behind a tree and his third shot found the bunker. He escaped with a halve though thanks to another excellent putt.
His luck ran out in the play-off hole after he duffed his second shot while Frame made the green in two and rolled his putt up to the hole.
“I played well on Thursday in the practice round, Friday turned out well, but I thought in the final I was shocking,” said Frame. “I turned it around a bit in the semi-final, but on Saturday Kev’s not really had a bad hole and I’ve had plenty.
“When you’re topping balls off the tee, you’re not going to get anywhere.
“I wish I had played a bit better for the final itself. I managed to get it going but once he took the two on the 16th, that was it.”
For the two losing semi-finalist, neither of them had any regrets and thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.
“I was really happy with the way I played,” said Riches.
“I probably was a little bit unlucky in my semi-final, but that happens in golf.
“You just have to accept and get on with it. I had a good game, but Kevin played the best golf over the weekend and deserved to win it.
“He had four twos against me and that’s incredible.”
Anderson added: “I have no qualms. I was pleased to take it to a play-off.
“I was disappointed with what happened there, but it is what it is.
“I didn’t mean to do what I did there, but I have really enjoyed it overall.”
Blacktax director Ian Hodgin was pleased to see Kevin Keating become the Gazette Matchplay champion for 2019.
Hodgin, whose Blackpool taxi firm sponsors our tournament, said: “Kevin has a handicap of two and it was nice to see a low handicapper win the tournament.
“He was a deserved winner but I thought there was some great golf played by everyone.
“They were a lovely bunch of people and played the game in the right spirit.”
Around 200 golfers entered the competition this year and Hodgin is encouraging more Fylde coast club players to enter next year.
Players must be aged 17 or over and have a certified or active handicap at any of the following clubs: Knott End, Fleetwood, Staining, Poulton, North Shore, Blackpool Park, Herons Reach, St Annes Old Links, Lytham Green Drive, Fairhaven and Royal Lytham.
The competition consists of five rounds on local courses with the quarter-finals staged at a prestigious neutral golf club.
The final four contest the semi-finals and finals abroad, while enjoying three nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast in luxurious surroundings, all courtesy of Blacktax Taxis.
“The competition is £10 to enter and entrants get that back with a £10 taxi voucher,” added Hodgin.