At 6ft 9in - the tallest player in European Tour history - Jonathan Thomson was buffeted more than most in winds gusting over 30mph on the first day of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Par 3 Championship on the outskirts of Aberdeen.
“I was nearly blown over out there,” reported the 22-year-old Englishman after carding a one-over-par 55 over two loops of the Devenick Course at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre to sit three shots off the lead, held by Tartan Tour stalwart Stephen Gray, at the halfway stage in the £20,000 event.
Former Open Championship Silver Medal winner David Dixon is Gray’s closest challenger after a 54, one ahead of two-time European Tour winner Alastair Forsyth and Craig Lawrie.
Others in contention heading into the final day include last weekend’s Shot Clock Masters runner-up Connor Syme, who signed for four birdies in the company of Paul Lawrie as the host, struggling badly with a sore back, dropped four shots in the last eight holes to card a 59 in conditions he described as “brutal”.
It was a day when fighting qualities were required and Thomson is definitely a battler. A decade ago, the Rotherman man beat leukemia and now holds a European Tour card after birdieing the final two holes in last year’s Qualifying School in Spain.
“Chemotherapy is a horrendous thing,” said Thomson, who is affectionately known as “Jigger”. “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.”
While he defied the theory on this occasion that tall people are likely to struggle most in windy conditons, Thomson’s height brings its difficulties. “Flying is difficult for me,” he admitted after getting off to his promising start in an event teed up for him by Davy Kenny, who caddies for Thomson after formerly working for Paul Lawrie. “I’ve forever got a stiff back and tend to be straight to the physios.”
This time last year, the Yorkshireman was playing on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour and, though admitting he’s found life “difficult” so far on the European Tour, he’s still quietly confident that he can hang on to his card for next season.
“The travel is hard to get used to,” he confessed. “I’m starting to get there and enjoy it more. Travelling in Europe is easier than going around the world where you go earlier in the year. It’s tiring mentally and physically. I am good friends with (2016 Masters champion) Danny Willett. He’s much older than me but he was someone I always watched and admired.”
Enjoying the best of the conditions, though still far from easy, former Tartan Tour No 1 Gray carded four 2s as he grabbed the lead late in the day.
“One of those came at the eighth first time around, hitting a 3-iron to around 12 feet just past the pin,” he reported. “I would have been quite happy to make a par there as it is quite nerve-wracking standing back on that tee.”
On getting a break with the weather, he added: “The scores don’t lie, they show we had it a little better.
“The leaders in the morning were three over, David Dixon was level in the second flight so I’m quite happy as I didn’t know what to expect.
“I just went out and played golf, had a nice game and hit my shots. Tomorrow’s forecast is better, so I’ll probably have to play better.”
Dixon, who won the Silver Medal as leading amateur in the 2001 Open Championship at Royal Lytham, dropped two shots in the final three holes.
“It was really tough out there,” said the 41-year-old Somerset man. “The wind was gusting then would not only drop but also change direction. It was tricky to say the least.”
A member of the first Great Britain & Ireland side to win the PGA Cup on US soil at CordeValle in California in 2015, Dixon is hoping this event is the first leg of a Scottish double-header over the coming days.
“I could have been in France for the Challenge Tour event this week but Paul Lawrie texted me about this event a couple of weeks ago and I really fancied it,” admitted Dixon. “I love playing golf in Scotland and I am hoping to get into next week’s Scottish Challenge in Aviemore, sitting 11th reserve at the moment.”
Syme, Scottish golf’s man of the moment after producing his best effort so far on the European Tour in Austria last weekend, was satisfied with his opening effort and said it had been a no-brainer for him to accept Lawrie’s invitation to play in the event.
“Paul does so much for Scottish golf and a lot of players, myself included, would be there in a heartbeat to support him,” admitted the 22-year-old, who jumped more than 100 spots to 101st in the Race to Dubai after holing a near 70-foot putt on the final green in the inaugural Shot Clock Masters.
“One of my first wins was his Junior Jug event at Elgin in 2012 and that was a big stepping stone for me.”
Reporting his back had been “louping” as that problem appears to have become more of a worry than ever for the 1999 champion, Lawrie is delighted to see the likes of Syme, Thomson and Bradley Neil being joined on this occasion by no less than seven female professionals.
Vikki Laing fared best of that group as she signed for a 58, one less than Heather MacRae, the former Ladies British Amateur Stroke-play champion who is now based in Portugal.
“We’ve gone up a step from last year in terms of the quality of the field and that’s the direction we want to continue going in,” said Lawrie. “I’m delighted to have so many ladies here too. We wanted 10 and got seven.”
On a day when 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell had to settle for a 65, Andrew McArthur had a hole-in-one at the seventh hole in his second circuit.
Unfortunately for the former Scottish champion, that was two holes too late as a cask of Loch Lomond Malt Whisky worth £15,000 is up for grabs for an ace at the fifth.
“Good things never happen to me,” said McArthur, laughing. “It was pot luck at the seventh with a sand wedge. It took one bounce and went straight in.
“I knew there was whisky on offer at the fifth but that’s a slightly different hole in that it requires a 6-iron.”