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Jigger's a birdie machine

Rotherham’s Jonathan ‘Jigger’ Thomson equalled a long-standing record for the most consecutive birdies when he reeled off nine in a row at the Palmares Open on the Portugal Pro Golf Tour.

His second round in the event started out like many other when he parred the first seven holes before he caught fire with a birdie on the 8th which stared the barrage. Eight more followed until he made a regulation par on the penultimate hole. But he was back at it again with another birdie on the last making it and astonishing 10 in the last 11 holes for a round of 62.

He eventually finished the 54-hole event in third place five shots behind winner Sam Locke, but it was Jigger’s world equalling performance that stole the headlines.

The world record for the most consecutive birdies has remained at nine for more than 25 years since Omar Uresti first achieved the number at the 1994 Shreveport Open on the Nationwide Tour.

Five years later, LPGA stalwart Beth Daniel added her name to the record list at the 1999 Phillips Invitational and since then only five more players have carded nine in a row prior to Thomson.

Mark Calcavecchia was the first to emulate the feat on the PGA Tour at the 2009 Canadian Open after Ilkley honorary member Colin Montgomerie had equalled the record in the 2005 Indonesian Open on the European Tour.

Others to get their names in the record book are Amy Yang in the 2015 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship on the LPGA Tour, Rayhan Thomas in the 2017 Dubai Creek Open on the Mena Tour, Bronte Law in the 2018 Ladies European Tour Q-School and James Nitties in the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open, again on the European Tour.

But more remarkable is Jigger’s golfing journey. At 6’9 “ he is the tallest man ever to hold playing rights on the European Tour after earning his card for 2018 , but his journey to that peak is the story of a remarkable fight for life that dates back to when he was seven and told he had lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Known as ‘Jigger’ for his restless energy as a nipper, he started chemotherapy at Sheffield Children's Hospital, one of the first children on a super-intensive course called Regimen C. For the next five years he was in and out of Ward M3, his mother Sarah giving up work to care for him.

He soon earned a reputation as a stubborn boy by refusing to have a blood transfusion no matter what his doctors advised. After fighting his way to a Tour card, he said: “'It is so bad that nobody can understand what it is truly like unless you have gone through it. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone. It defies description.

“The longest period I was in hospital was about three weeks. The chemo had attacked my internal lining so harshly that I had ulcers from my gut to my oesophagus. I couldn't eat or drink anything. I had a drip for everything. I wasn't able to speak for about a week.

"It was the worst time. There were moments when I wanted to die. I was in that much agony, so ill."

What kept his spirits up — and possibly even kept him alive — was golf. Most of the time he was too ill to go to school and instead spent time at Rotherham Golf Club, where his father was the steward and is now head of catering, watching and learning from the older children, including the future Masters champion Danny Willett.

Thompson sat on a chair and thought to himself: "That's the life I want."

When he was strong enough, he would hit a few balls, and then sit down again to gather his strength. His talent and determination soon came to the fore: aged nine, he won an Under 11s tournament, getting dispensation to use a buggy. At 12, and finally off chemotherapy, he was selected for Yorkshire Under 16s, then England Under 16s and for the seniors while still a teenager.

He turned pro in September 2016 and just four weeks later won the Glenfarclas Open on the PGA EuroPro Tour.

Despite his latest conquest he’s unlikely to lose perspective. “After beating leukaemia, no matter what goes on in the rest of my life, whether I make it as a golfer or not, I feel proud that I have accomplished something pretty huge.”

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