By Richard Williamson
CHESHIRE golfer James Newton sprang a surprise at the Flogas Irish Amateur Open to win with five shots to spare – despite a late wobble.
The 24-year-old from Macclesfield led by five after three rounds and kept the field at bay throughout a difficult final round at County Sligo on Ireland’s west coast.
Newton closed with a 74 to finish at nine under par – but it could have turned out much worse after a Brooks Koepka-style run of bogeys. He began with three bogeys but quickly recovered and although he tripled the 16th coming home, he had enough shots in hand to withstand the blow.
Ireland international Conor Purcell emerged as his closest challenger but the Portmarnock star could only get within five strokes of the leader.
“I knew that I could win,” said Newton, from Prestbury Golf Club. “One of my goals was to win a 72 hole event. I’ve ticked that off quite early. I need to go back and re-evaluate my goals now.”
At the start of the week, Newton’s name was not near the list of favourites. He travelled by ferry from Holyhead with precious few championship credentials after falling outside the world’s top 50 in the amateur rankings over the past four seasons.
“I changed coach last October and moved to Peter Barber at Didsbury Golf Club,” Newton explained. “The good has always been good enough and he [Barber] has made the bad a lot better.”
Two rounds of 66 testified to the quality of his game. Five ahead at the halfway stage, Newton punched in 69 after round three to hold his lead.
“It’s nice to have a win early on in the season,” Newton reflected. “And I know that I can do it again this year so I just need to go and do it.”
After his rocky start, Newton redressed the balance at the fourth and a welcome birdie changed the course of his round. Another followed at the fifth, where he got up and down for his four, and he continued on a steady course from there.
Newton has a background in martial arts. At the age of 10, he had a black belt in karate. His athletic ability was evident off the tee. With the driver, he had up to 40 yards on his playing partners and he provided a forceful demonstration on number eight, which played as the hardest hole on the course, as he powered his way to a rare birdie three with a four iron to the green.
Purcell picked up two shots on the front nine to reach seven under but he needed Newton to lend a helping hand.
“To shoot the score he did with the lead he had was pretty impressive,” said Purcell. “I was always playing for second really. He [Newton] was comfortable after nine.”