Liam Johnston’s dream comes true on Costa del Sol

Liam Johnston bridged a two-year Scottish gap with his victory in Estepona. Picture: Hugo Costa.
Liam Johnston bridged a two-year Scottish gap with his victory in Estepona. Picture: Hugo Costa.
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Liam Johnston landed a first tartan triumph on the Challenge Tour in just over two years by beating Grant Forrest in an all-Scottish final in Spain as David Drysdale claimed third spot on the European Tour in Belgium on a weekend of thrilling match-play golf.

Showing once again that he knows what it takes to be a winner, Johnston, a 25-year-old rookie pro from Dumfries, enjoyed a £26,000 pay-day with victory in the Andalucia – Costa del Sol Match Play 9 at Valle Romano in Estepona.

In an event in which the top 64 after two stroke-play rounds qualified for a series of nine-hole match-play knockouts, he beat Forrest by one hole in the title decider after squeezing past Italian Jacopo Vecchi Fossa at the fifth extra hole in the semi-finals.

“It’s a dream come true, to be fair,” said Johnston, who is coached by Andrew Erskine, the professional at Dumfries & County. “It’s a stepping stone towards where I want to be in golf and it has totally exceeded my expectations for the year as I started out with no status on the Challenge Tour and playing off invites.”

Johnston is up to ninth in the Challenge Tour’s Road to Ras Al Khaimah after securing Scotland’s first success on the second-tier circuit since Duncan Stewart won the Challenge de Madrid just over two years ago. Stewart used that victory as a springboard to secure his European Tour card by finishing in the top 15 on the money-list and now Johnston will be aiming to do likewise.

He brought the curtain down on his amateur career by winning both the African Amateur and Scottish Stroke Play Championships last season before making the cut on his professional debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour.

The former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga man then topped the class in the third-tier Pro Golf Tour Qualifying School and had won on that circuit in Morocco earlier this year before now landing a much bigger title.

“To get a win like this so early in my Challenge Tour career is fantastic and the fact I’m now able to play the remainder of the season on it means I’m in a good spot for the rest of the year,” added Johnston.

Forrest, who beat Stuart Manley of Wales in his semi-final, picked up just under £20,000 as his consolation prize, lifting the Craigielaw player to 12th in the Road to Ras Al Khaimah.

On the European Tour, Drysdale lost to the eventual winner, Spaniard Adrian Otaegui, in the semi-finals before beating 2016 SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge champion James Heath in the play-off for third spot in the inaugural Belgian Knockout at Rinkven International Golf Club in Antwerp.

The effort, which came on the back of six consecutive missed cuts for the normally consistent Cockburnspath man, earned Drysdale just under £55,000, lifting him from outside the top 200 to 116th in the Race to Dubai.

Otaegui, winner of the British Boys at Barassie in 2010, beat Frenchman Benjamin Hebert in the final to claim a second European Tour title. “I’m very happy, very relaxed now after those last nine holes against Ben that were very tight,” said Otaegui. “We both played very good golf and I’m just very proud about my week.”