Ricardo Santos has created history by becoming the first Portuguese winner of The Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award following a season in which he won the Madeira Islands Open at Santo da Serra, where he had played many times as a junior.
Santos celebrated the 40th anniversary of The European Tour one week late by becoming only the second Portuguese player to win on the International Schedule – exactly 20 years after Daniel Silva became the first by capturing the Jersey Open.
Born in Faro in 1982, Santos, raised in a home adjacent to the Oceânico Victoria Golf Course in the Algarve, fulfilled his boyhood dream by winning on Portuguese soil with a superb final round of 63, which was the lowest final round by a winner during the 2012 season and was watched by many of his family including brother Hugo, who also played in the Madeira Islands Open.
Santos had notched seven birdies before – to a hero’s welcome – he rattled home a 40-footer at the 17th, then drilled an approach to two feet at the last to become, appropriately, the first Rookie winner on The 2012 European Tour International Schedule. Santos’ claim to succeed Tom Lewis as the winner of the award was strengthened by the fact that none of his fellow rookies subsequently won on The European Tour in 2012, which ultimately swung the vote in the 30 year old’s favour.
Santos, who dedicated his win to his wife, Rita, and their daughter, Victoria, was naturally thrilled to learn that he had become the 48th recipient of The Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award, which was launched in 1960.
He said: “It’s an honour to become the first Portuguese player to win the Rookie of the Year award. When you look at some of the players who have won the award in the past, it’s a real privilege to see my name next to theirs on the trophy. It’s been an amazing season, and to end it be winning the award is more than I could have dreamed of.
“Winning in Madeira has brought me more recognition in Portugal, and being named Rookie of the Year will get my name known even more, here at home and across Europe. But the award is not just for me – it’s also for my coach, Almerindo Sequeira; my fitness coach, David Moura; my sports psychologist, Gonςalo Castanho; and for my wife, Rita. Our daughter Victoria is probably too young to understand at the moment, but when she grows up I’m sure she’ll be proud of her father for winning this award.
“The goal for 2013 is to win again on The European Tour, and to play my first Major. This award has given me the confidence to go and achieve my goals – although you only have one chance to win the Rookie of the Year, hopefully I can win many more titles in the future.”
Prior to turning professional in 2006, Santos won the Swiss Amateur International Open Championship and the Portugal Amateur Order of Merit, in addition to representing Portugal in the Eisenhower Trophy and the Continent of Europe in the St Andrews Trophy.
He graduated to The European Tour by finishing fourth in the Challenge Tour Final Rankings in 2011 – when he also played alongside brother Hugo in the World Cup for Portugal – after springing from the pack with a closing round of 66 to win his maiden title in The Princess by Schüco at the PGA of Sweden National.
George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, said: “We congratulate Ricardo on an outstanding season capped by becoming the first Portuguese winner of the very prestigious Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award. I’m sure Ricardo would have been a very popular choice with Sir Henry himself, as he had a great affinity with Portugal after designing the Championship Course at Penina Golf & Resort.
“Ricardo followed success on the Challenge Tour by gaining his maiden European Tour victory. These triumphs will unquestionably increase interest in the game in Portugal and encourage other players from the country to emulate his achievements.”
Santos follows many of golf’s greatest names such as Sir Nick Faldo, Tony Jacklin, Sandy Lyle, José María Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie in addition to, more recently, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Matteo Manassero, Ian Poulter and last year’s winner Tom Lewis in winning The Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award, which is judged by The R&A, the Association of Golf Writers and The European Tour.
The judges considered four main contenders, but Santos became the 11th winner from Continental Europe ahead of England’s Matthew Baldwin and Tommy Fleetwood and Spain’s Jorge Campillo, who all also graduated from the 2011 European Challenge Tour.