Daniel Im claimed his maiden European Challenge Tour title in swashbuckling style as the American birdied the first play-off hole to beat England’s Gary Boyd to the chase and be crowned the 2015 Swiss Challenge presented by Association Suisse de Golf champion.
In a dramatic final day at a sun-drenched Golf Sempachersee, the lead exchanged hands numerous times throughout the afternoon but in the end it came down to two.
Both Im and Boyd came agonisingly close to sealing outright victory in regular play with makeable birdie chances at the last hole, but the former’s six under 65 and the latter’s three under 68 meant they were deadlocked on 11 under par.
Boyd, playing an iron off the tee at the first play-off hole - the 18th - landed his first shot in a fairway bunker, leaving a tough job make it on in two, while Im found the rough on the right.
The Californian proceeded to fire a magnificent approach into the undulating green, which bounced on the fringe, halted right on the slope between the top and bottom tiers before trickling down to within eight feet of the pin.
Boyd, meanwhile, could only hack out of a tough lie in the bunker to 35 yards short and when his third darted to the back tier of the putting surface, it was all set up for Im to wrap it up. He did so in emphatic fashion with a perfectly-weighted putt that teased its way into the hole to give the 30 year-old a first victory.
I’ve seen guys like Brooks (Koepka), Peter (Uihlein) and Byeong-hun An come through the Challenge Tour. They are my inspiration
“It feels amazing,” said Im, who climbed to fourth in the Road to Oman Rankings. “I’ve been out in Europe for three years now playing Challenge Tour and European Tour and it’s my first win. I’m happy to win with a birdie in a play-off too.
“Gary’s a good guy, I’ve known him for a good while now, and it was just fun. At the beginning of the round I told my girlfriend Sadie, who is caddying for me, that if we could somehow get to 12 under we might have a chance.
“These guys out here are good so I didn’t expect to be in a play-off with 11 under. I gave it all that I could and I hit my birdie putt at 18 in regular play pretty firm, but I made the par and it was enough.
“My first year I was out here in Europe I didn’t know what to expect. I’m from California so I’m used to hot weather, a bit like what we got here this week. But I learned a lot over three years and played with a lot of good players on The European Tour last year. I saw how I could manage my game to improve and win a golf tournament.
“I’ve seen the other American guys Brooks (Koepka) and Peter (Uihlein) come through the Challenge Tour and I played with Byeong-hun An a bunch of times in the last couple of years. They are my inspiration.”
This week I had got into Sweden on The European Tour but we made a decision that we needed more money on Challenge Tour and it’s a good thing I came!
Im also admitted that having his girlfriend on the bag was a huge factor, not least because she convinced him to choose the Swiss Challenge this week over the Nordea Masters on The European Tour, a decision which has paid dividends.
“She’s always reminding me to stay positive,” he said. “It was funny – at the 11th hole I was standing on the tee box and she just said, ‘you’re not weak, you’re strong, do your thing!’
“I just want to thank her and everybody around me, as well as the people I’ve been staying with this week – Robert and Veronica – and I want to thank god for making everything happen.
“This week I had got into Sweden on The European Tour but we made a decision that we needed more money on Challenge Tour and it’s a good thing I came!”
Boyd, who moved to 13th in the Road to Oman courtesy of his runner-up finish, was understandably disappointed to miss out on a first win since his first and only victory at the 2009 Kenya Open. But he was keen to take the positives from a week that confirmed his comeback after a long spell of poor form.
“It’s obviously gutting not to win,” said the 28 year old, who finished 50th in The 2010 Race to Dubai. “But at the end of the day a second place finish and only losing out in a play-off is a great week. It’s just disappointing that there was a chance there to win coming up the final stretch.
“I had some of my best swings at the last four holes following a bit of a shaky period after the turn. Then I had a chance at the last and I was unlucky in the play-off with a poor lie in the bunker.
“Fair play to Daniel though, he made birdie in the play-off and you can’t argue with that. It’s onwards and upwards for me for the rest of the season, that’s for sure.”
Promising 18 year old German Dominic Foos claimed the best finish of his Challenge Tour career in just his fourth start, birdieing four of last five holes to earn the former Junior Ryder Cup player a five under par 66 and a third place finish on 10 under for the tournament.