Golf was put in perspective for Australian Stephen Leaney when his close friend, Stuart Appley, lost his wife in a tragic car accident in London last Thursday.
In the circumstances, Leaney recognised that winning a tournament was “no big deal” - but that persistent feeling was to help the 29-year-old land the TNT Dutch Open at Hilversumsche GC.
Leaney, a graduate of the Challenge Tour in 1997, resisted a strong challenge from Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Nick Price to win his second European Tour title of the year with an 18 under par total of 266.
That victory, following a debut success in the Moroccan Open, earned the Australian £133,330 and lifted him to eighth in the Volvo Ranking with £252,755.
Afterwards Leaney revealed how Renay Appleby’s death had affected him as he tried to achieve an important win against some of the biggest names in world golf.
“I guess this week I’ve had a very, very close friend of mine lose his wife, which was hard to take,” he said. “I was really thinking of Stuart the last four days and I think that helped me because it really didn’t matter what I shot. Even if I lost the golf tournament it’s really no big deal. When this sort of thing happens it puts the game into perspective and I guess that helped me to try and stay focused today. It is great to win but I’m thinking of Stuart and I hope he gets through it.”
On a thrilling final day, Leaney always held the whip hand against some more experienced challengers, and proved he has the game and temperament to match the best.
Lee Westwood, bidding for a fourth European Tour title since the start of June, had set a scorching pace in the first round with a course record-equalling 63 to lead by two strokes.
However Leaney matched that score in the second round to share the halfway lead on 219, 13 under par, as Westwood carved out a 66. Price, with a 65, also muscled his way into contention.
A third round of 70 forced Leaney into a two shot advantage going into the sunny final day as Westwood, uncharacteristically, scrambled his way round the tree-lined Dutch course in 72.
That set the stage for the final day, with Clarke also lurking just in behind the leaders after a 67 which amazed the Irishman himself, so badly did he hit the ball.
However Clarke was telling a different story 24 hours later as he wrung seven birdies and an eagle from the course to claim the third 63 of the week. In the end, that gallant effort was to prove one shot too many as Clarke finished on 267. He said: “I don’t know what happened today. On the range I couldn’t hit it - but on the course every part of my game was on. I hit very few bad shots. That’s my best round of the year.”
Westwood never got going over the front nine and shot 67 to share third place with former Open and US PGA champion Price, who finished with a 66.
“I’m feeling a bit tired,” said Westwood, who still heads the Volvo Ranking with £590,385. “I’m looking forward to taking a complete break this week and not touching a club. Then I’ll get ready for the US PGA.”
Price commented: “I didn’t putt like a winner, although I hit the ball very well. That is encouraging.”
Leaney, though, wouldn’t be denied. The man who had to get a rib removed from his shoulder after a blood clot was found in December 1993 didn’t flinch under the pressure.
He birdied the first to strengthen his grip on the last round he never truly looked like relinquishing, even in the face of Clarke’s big charge. In the end, a 15 footer for a birdie at the 17th sealed the title, with Leaney able to afford the luxury of a par five at the last to triumph.
“I’ve known for quite a long time that my game’s good enough to play against these guys,” he admitted. “Now my goal is to play in the Presidents’ Cup back home in Australia.”