JACK Senior’s career has tracked on a less spectacular plane than that of Jordan Spieth since they crossed swords on the first-day singles in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen.
Yesterday, though, as Spieth savoured becoming the Masters and US Open champion by posting a photograph on social media of him relaxing on a luxury yacht in the Bahamas, Senior took his first step towards getting back on the same stages as the American.
The 26-year-old from Morecambe won the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley, beating fellow Englishman Robert Coles and Thailand’s Prom Meesawat with a birdie at the fourth extra hole in a play-off after the trio had finished locked together on 16-under 288 in Aviemore.
It was Senior’s third success on Scottish soil. While Spieth came out on top by 3&2 in that head-to-head meeting, Senior ended up on the winning side in Aberdeen. Indeed, he snatched an unlikely half against Nathan Smith 24 hours later as Great Britain & Ireland beat a star-studded American side.
Then, playing on the PGA EuroPro Tour, Senior won the Eagle Orchid Scottish Masters at Montrose Links – the first of two victories in quick succession on the third-tier circuit, where he was on course to top the money list from earnings in just five events until he was pipped at the death by Elliot Saltman.
“I don’t know what it is about Scotland, but I seem to do pretty well up here,” he admitted, smiling, after a closing 67 – one better than Meesawat on the day and three less than Coles. “I won in a three-man play-off at Montrose last year. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s the Irn Bru!”
Senior had closed with a 65 when finishing fourth behind compatriot Andrew Johnston in this event 12 months ago. Three behind joint leaders Coles and Gary Boyd overnight, it seemed likely that he needed something similar to have a chance of coming out on top on this occasion.
Having seen the birdies he’d bagged with relative ease on the first two days dry up, Boyd soon found himself playing catch up as Coles went out in two-under 33 to lead by two. Senior made his move with a birdie-eagle burst at the eighth and ninth, but still looked to have his work cut out heading into the closing stretch.
His birdie at the 16th was timely; the one at the 18th crucial, hence the massive fist pump that greeted a 15-foot putt just catching the left edge of the hole as it dropped in. In between those blows, Coles, bidding for his first triumph in six years, took a costly bogey-6 at the 17th then neither he nor Meesawat, who produced a flawless closing effort, could birdie the last to claim outright victory.
After playing the 18th three times without being able to break the deadlock, a trip up the first proved rewarding for Senior. Following a big drive, he was able to hit his second to no more than eight inches to claim the biggest win of his career and a first prize of around £28,500.
“Hitting driver at the first play-off hole was key,” insisted the event’s tenth anniversary champion. “I knew the other two guys didn’t have the firepower to get it over the hill. I actually thought I could get it on the green if I got the right line, but I was just happy I got it close and had a great lie so all I really had to do was flick it up there and it was always going to release to the pin.
“But the key today was the eagle on nine. I hit a great drive and just committed to it. I just thought you have to stand up and be counted’ and I hit a great drive down there on to the green to about five feet and rolled in the putt.
“After that, which was just after I made a great birdie on eight from a horrendous lie, that’s when I thought that maybe I had a chance to win, that it might be my day. I knew I had been playing well enough to win recently but you just never know till you get over the line. “
Senior had hinted that he had the game to make the breakthrough when finishing fourth in the Made in Denmark Challenge earlier in the year. One missed cut in seven events prior to this one was also a promising sign. “I should have won in Denmark a few weeks ago but had a disappointing finish there so to come here just a few weeks later is very satisfying,” he said.
Earlier, play had been delayed for three hours after 3mm of rain fell on the course in just 30 minutes and 10mm over three-and-a-half hours. The downpours led to 100 gallons of water being removed from five greens which had been covered with plastic sheeting overnight.
Having watched the greenkeeping team take every precaution possible after seeing the event reduced to 54 holes in 2012, tournament director Kevin Feeney admitted it had been a frustrating situation. “We have four or five greens on the course, which, for whatever reason, the water just sits on the top,” he said. “Following this event we are going to try something different with those greens, but for the time being it is something of a mystery to us all.”