The weather was the winner on day one of the SAINT-OMER OPEN presented by NEUFLIZE OBC, which is led by Finland’s Roope Kakko.
Wet and windy conditions at Aa St. Omer Golf Club made Kakko’s flawless morning round of 69 all the more remarkable.
The Finn is trailed by one shot by France's Adrien Bernadet, compatriot Mikko Korhonen, and the English duo of Marcus Higley and John Morgan, both of whom are also encountering problems away from the course – Higley because of his failure to find a sponsor, and Morgan due to his epilepsy.
Kakko’s chief concern is reclaiming bragging rights from his girlfriend and caddy Minea Blomqvist, who has won four times on the Ladies European Tour.
He said: “I think she’s won more money than me recently! But if I have a good tournament here, it will be my turn to buy the drinks.
“I was really pleased with my round, and not dropping any shots was the key. I putted well and didn’t make many mistakes, which was pleasing in weather like this. I teed off at 9.30am, so it wasn’t as bad for me as the guys who went out early. But it was still pretty bad.
“The course is pretty difficult anyway, and the rain made it even more difficult. It’s definitely playing longer, and the wind is always tricky here, because it feels like it’s swirling around so you’re always second guessing.”
Morgan has more pressing issues to contend with, having been diagnosed with epilepsy in 2004. The illness was the chief reason for his failure to keep his card on The European Tour, but the Englishman showed signs of a return to form with a bogey-free round of 69.
He said: “I’ve been playing OK, so I can’t grumble. It’s just a case of getting back into the groove. I haven’t been playing outstanding golf, I’ve been playing percentages golf. But my experience is probably helping me, because I haven’t been trying to chase it so much or getting frustrated with myself. I’ve just been taking my time, and it seems to be working.
“The epilepsy obviously set me back a fair bit, and unfortunately I can’t really control it. It’s in my brain, and if it wants to come alive, then it will. In the last three weeks I’ve had three fits, so I’m not sure it’s really under control. It’s been difficult. On one of the recent Challenge Tour events, I had a fit on the practice ground just before I was due to tee off. Luckily for me, they let me tee off five minutes late.
“But I guess it’s one of those things. All I can do is keep plodding on. Hopefully one day I get my chance again, and hopefully I take it. I’d love to be back on The European Tour again, and I think I can get there.”
Another player seeking to progress to The European Tour is Korhonen who, despite dropping a shot at the 18th hole, was still content with his round of 69 and a share of second place.
He said: “It was a really good day, particularly in the conditions. I struck the ball really well, so overall I was very pleased with my round. And luckily I had a really good caddie, who helped me a lot. He really knew what to do, so I listened to him.”
In contrast Higley, second at Aa St Omer Golf Club last year, listened to European Tour Member Jamie Spence, who gave him some advice on his putting stroke.
The Englishman, seeking his first victory of the season after a runner up finish at the AGF-Allianz Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne on the European Challenge Tour, said: “I had a chat with Jamie [Spence] the other day, and he told me to keep talking to myself when I’m putting. I’ve tried a few things in the past so I thought I’d give it a go, and it’s worked well so far.”
Higley’s search for a sponsor, however, has been less fruitful. He said: “I’ve struggled a bit over the last month, financially as much as anything. I haven’t got a sponsor at the moment, so it can be tough to keep things going. So a big cheque this week would certainly ease the pressure on me a bit.”
Gareth Maybin is in a group of players one shot further back on one under par, but his fellow Irishman Paul McGinley struggled to a round of 74.
The three-time Ryder Cup winner said: “Three three putts and one out of bounds cost me five shots. If you take those five shots away, I’d probably be leading the tournament. They were silly mistakes, and I paid the price.”