NEW Lothians champion Paul Drake feared he’d blown his title chance after putting himself under too much pressure to emulate a Pumpherston legend.
The 38-year-old was thrilled after beating Harburn’s Craig Deerness at the 19th last night to become the first Pumpherston player to claim the crown since Phil Smith in 1984.
But he did it the hard way in the weather-delayed final at Dalmahoy, coming from two down with four to play to win the all-West Lothian showdown.
“I don’t normally get nervous but I was tonight and I think it was because I was thinking about Phil Smith out there,” said Drake.
“I’m a Pumphy boy and it’s a great honour to follow in his footsteps, especially at a club that doesn’t win all that much.”
It was a case of third-time lucky for Drake in a Lothians final, having been pipped twice for the Champion of Champions crown in recent years.
For most of this match, which was watched by the biggest crowd to turn out for the final for quite some time, it looked as though he was going to end up as a bridesmaid again.
Deerness, a first-time qualifier in the LGA’s flagship event, reached the turn with a three-hole cushion as his opponent struggled on the greens.
But for a poor pitch from his opponent at the long tenth, Drake would probably have been in deeper trouble and perhaps wouldn’t have come back from four down. However, the eventual winner admitted afterwards that he sensed he still had a chance at that point.
“Craig had played tremendous for ten holes but I felt the occasion the started to get to him a bit,” said Drake. “I said to myself ‘just try and par in from here and you just might take the match up the 19th’.”
Though that still looked a tad optimistic with four to play, Deerness put his tee-shot behind a tree at the 15th and lost that to a par-4.
He then hit a tree on the right of the 16th with his next drive and, unable to salvage his par, it was suddenly back to all-square.
Both missed decent birdie chances at the short 17th before Deerness left a 15-footer at the last for the title in the jaws of the hole.
He then found sand with his approach at the 19th but was unable to hole a six-footer to keep the match alive after Drake had cosied an eagle attempt up to the side of the cup.
“I think it would be right to say that I got out jail there,” admitted the champion.
While naturally disappointed, Deerness was also a credit to his club and vowed to go one better in the future.
“One of the turning points was putting my drive behind the tree at the 15th – that was a blow for me,” said the 31-year-old.
“But it’s been a great experience and what I have taken from this week more than anything is the great support I’ve received.”