Australian Matt Zions believes winning the Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize OBC last year was “his destiny”, and he cannot wait to head back to France to see what fate has in store for him this week.
The 33 year old triumphed by seven shots in wet and windy conditions in northern France, which not only earned him the €100,000 first prize but gave him exemption to most of the remaining events of the season, a luxury his previous category would not have afforded him.
Having finished 15th in the 2010 Challenge Tour Rankings, the victory turned Zions’ season around and suddenly removed the pressure of having to secure his playing rights for 2012. It is a moment in his career he often recalls.
“I’ve thought about it a lot in the last 12 months,” he said. “It has come around again very quickly and a lot has happened between then and now. I have such fond memories of the place as it was my first win, and I’m excited to be going back.
“I was always intending to play last year, unless I qualified for the US Open, which I didn’t do. So it feels like it was my destiny to win.
“I was three clear going into the last day and the lead was down to one after the first hole, but I just kept chipping away and before I knew it I had a seven shot lead with two holes to play. That was nice. I’m not sure if I’ll have that ever again. I felt pretty comfortable finishing the 16th and thought to myself ‘I’m safe here’. The wind was very helpful over the last couple of holes and there was no trouble.
“It’s something you prepare for and it was a day when a lot of guys had to be aggressive to catch me, which is hard to do there. I felt calm and knew all the others had the work to do. I knew I just had to be smart and continue putting well, which I’d done all week.
“I feel like I’m going back with a bit of momentum. I’m hitting it well, like I was last year, when I knew something was just around the corner.”
The tough, windy conditions often found at AA Saint Omer Golf Club may be daunting to some, but Zions thrives on the challenge.
“There’s no real rest on that course,” he said. “No matter which way the wind is blowing it makes the course tough. It turns a lot of people off. I remember my first time there the conditions were hard and I found it a tough track. But I like it when it’s tough and you have to grind and there’s not many birdies.
“The greens are slopey and difficult to read, and it turns a lot of first-timers off. But I like that; I like that people get upset. It narrows my competition rather quickly.”
The €500,000 event is dual-ranked between The European Tour and the Challenge Tour, giving players from the latter a golden opportunity to immediately step up to golf’s top tier. The prize fund is much higher than usual Challenge Tour events, so it also presents the chance to leap up the Rankings, as Englishman Danny Denison, Scotsman Craig Lee and Swede Peter Gustafsson did 12 months ago.
The trio finished tied second over the 6835-yards, par 71 course, and the €44,740 they each earned was key to their final positions of sixth, 14th and 29th respectively in the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Former champions David Dixon, Carl Suneson, Cesar Monasterio and José-Filipe Lima are in the field, along with former Ryder Cup player David Howell.