Nick is up to the Challenge
Moortown’s Nick McCarthy saved his best for last when he won the season ending Andalusian PGA EuroPro Tour Championship at Desert Springs Golf Club, Spain, and with it a place on the Challenge Tour in 2019.
McCarthy, 30, started the week 24th in the Order of Merit, needing a win and nothing less if he was to play his 2019 golf at the next level. His track record at Desert Springs heading into the week wasn’t the strongest, as three rounds in the mid 70s in 2016 saw him finish tied for 43rd.
He knew it was a tall order but took good form into the event. He said: “I knew that going into Desert Springs, so it was very much win or bust. But I had been playing well and shooting low numbers thanks to some good iron play, so I was optimistic, and you never know what is around the corner in this game.
“Before I got here I would have said this isn’t a track that suits my eye, but I managed to strike the ball well and put myself in great positions all week and got the putter working.”
A second-round tournament low of 64 put him in the driving seat but with plenty of work and high-class golfers just a few shots behind as he embarked on what he anticipated to be a grueling round. However, McCarthy showed no signs of nerves as he flew out of the blocks, picking up five birdies in his opening seven holes to open a three-shot cushion over the field.
But, the birdie train de-railed at the ninth, as McCarthy dropped shots on the 9th and 11th whilst Steve Surry (Cumberwell Park) drew level for the first time in the round. McCarthy remained unfazed and bounced back with an excellent birdie at the 12th, before collecting his final birdie of the day on the 17th.
A stunning approach shot into a tricky pin, positioned at the back of the green, gave him an easy birdie and a four-shot cushion heading down the 18th as Surry could only manage a bogey to fall back to -14 with the chasing pack.
And with the ball in McCarthy’s court, barring complete disaster on the last his mission was achieved – a bogey was enough to give him a three-shot win, and more importantly the coveted Challenge Tour card he was chasing.
“To go out leading, and to now be standing here with this trophy is the best feeling ever.” said McCarthy. “I won’t lie, I felt the pressure, and there were a few things running through my head, whether I should attack it or not, but I just tried to play as I did in the last two rounds.
“After my approach into 17 I started to believe that it was going to be my day, especially as Steve had found a bunker. I thought I would at least be heading down the last with a three-shot lead.
“I relished being in a final group with two quality players and really good lads beside me, I felt we pushed each other along today as there were a lot of birdies out there. It’s great to finally get my hands on a bit of silverware, I’ve had some chances over the years and not quite got the win so to be stood here with this trophy is great.”
He was quick to praise his coach Peter Barber who he turned to during a difficult time.
“I have known Pete a long time through my dad (Dave) who worked in the golf equipment industry. I had always got along well with him and he had always offered his help. About two and a half years ago I was in a bad place mentally and with my game, so I turned to him and haven’t looked back since. He is the one who deserves all the credit. He has turned my game around.”
Mancunian Barber knows plenty about the dog eat dog life of a professional golfer having been a journeyman on the European Tour from 1975 to 1987. His regular playing partner at Gog Magog GC near Cambridge away from tournament golf was Ron Atkinson, and he was part of one of the football manager’s famous pranks.
Barber had called at the Cambridge United ground for a coffee when Big Ron was in charge. He arrived straight from the airport after competing in the Scandinavia Enterprises Open and was wearing a white blazer emblazoned with an oversize tournament logo.
Atkinson took one look at him and said: “The press are due in here in 10 minutes. I will do all the talking. I will tell them you can’t speak English and that you are our new signing from Sweden. And don’t take that blazer off.”
Sure enough there he was next morning all over the newspapers as Big Ron’s secret signing!
The Challenge Tour is not unchartered territory for the Moortown golfer as he played a full season in 2011 before going through a rough few years during which he contemplated giving up the game. “During those times when I wasn’t playing well I seriously thought about packing it in and getting a regular job, but I knew I would miss the competitive side of the sport too much.
“I just love competing and that’s what spurs me on. It can be a lonely life at times out there but I’m lucky that I enjoy the travelling which some guys find hard. But I have also had great support from my Mum (Sally) and Dad, my brother Duncan and my girlfriend Nicky.”
Dad Dave is as a former winner of the Leeds Open and played for Yorkshire many times. As Director of European Operations for golf shaft manufacturer True Temper, he was in close contact with many or the top players in Europe and as seen at first hand what it takes.
He caddies regularly for his youngest son including during the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2016 when Nick made it through the final qualifying rounds. Now they will turn their attention to raising enough money to compete next year on a Tour where the top 15 will graduate to the European Tour.