England’s Billy McKenzie held his nerve in the closing stages to beat compatriot Alex Fitzpatrick in the final of the Spanish Amateur Golf Championship and claim the biggest win of his career at La Manga Club, Spain.
McKenzie had only scraped into the match play stages of the event, claiming the 32nd and final qualifying spot, but was in inspired form in the knockout phase, eventually beating Fitzpatrick 3 & 2 to lift the prestigious Copa S.M El Rey trophy.
Taking place on La Manga Club’s world-renowned South Course, the 23-year-old – who plays at Rowlands Castle GC in Hampshire – led the 36-hole final by three holes at the halfway stage and extended his advantage further after lunch, winning the first four holes of the afternoon session to go six up.
Fitzpatrick, brother of European Tour star Matt Fitzpatrick, threatened a dramatic comeback as he reduced the deficit to just two with four holes to play, but the leader settled his nerves by winning the 33rd hole before closing out victory by halving the par-four 16th.
“It’s unbelievable,” McKenzie told England Golf. “To win one of these big match play events is a dream come true. I wanted a decent result to start the season and felt that getting to the last 16 would be acceptable. After that I just freed up and played it one game at a time and it became, if not easier, but less pressured.”
The Spanish Amateur Championship is one of the biggest tournaments on the European amateur calendar – other previous winners include Sergio Garcia, José Mari̒a Olaza̒bal and Darren Clarke – and McKenzie overcame a high-class field of 115 players from 21 different countries to lift the title, including European number Matthew Jordan.
He is the seventh English winner of the event in the last 15 years in a list that includes 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, but McKenzie revealed that it was another Hampshire golfer who inspired him to success – Scott Gregory, who was the 2016 British Amateur champion and a losing finalist in the Spanish amateur championship the same year.
He added: “I’m very close with Scott, we have the same coach, and we have been pushing each other on. I’ve seen his successes and watched him grow as a player and go on to great things. He’s been giving me advice this week and telling me to bring it home, which he couldn’t!”
La Manga Club’s South Course was the ideal venue for the continent’s rising stars to put their skills to the test. The 7,149-yard layout has hosted numerous high-profile tournaments in the past, including the Spanish Open five times, while it has been shortlisted to be named as ‘Spain’s Best Golf Course’ at this year’s World Golf Awards.
The Spanish Amateur Golf Championship begins a busy period on the fairways for Europe’s leading sports and leisure destination. As well as staging the PGAs of Europe La Manga Club Pro-Am for a fifth successive year from April 30 to May 4, the resort – named Europe’s Best Golf Venue at the 2017 World Golf Awards – will also host the prestigious IAGTO Trophy from May 21-24, and the 22nd edition of the popular Footballers’ Golf Classic in early June.
Three times the size of Monaco and nestling in an exclusive corner of Murcia in south-east Spain, La Manga Club has been at the forefront of European golf since opening in 1972, with its facilities including three 18-hole courses, a nine-hole academy course and outstanding practice area.
The official overseas training base of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the resort’s unrivalled extensive other facilities include a 28-court tennis centre, a new European Cricket Performance Centre and a 2,000sqm Wellness Centre. In addition, it features the choice of a five-star hotel, four-star serviced apartments and townhouses and more than 15 bars and restaurants.
For more information on La Manga Club and to book, visit www.lamangaclub.com