American Tim Thelen made a sensational debut on the European Senior Tour when a superb seven under par 65 gave him the first round lead in the Berenberg Bank Masters in Cologne.
The Texan won the Tour’s Qualifying School last November but only became eligible to compete fully when he turned 50 three days ago. However he took full advantage of his first outing at the Cologne Golf und Land Club to open up a one shot lead over Englishman George Ryall with another Englishman, former Ryder Cup captain Mark James, in third a further shot back.
It could have been even better for Thelen had he not seen his three foot putt for birdie spin round the hole on the 18th green but the former college team-mate of Colin Montgomerie at Houston Baptist University was not complaining.
“I’ve been looking forward to this from last November but really over the past month since I resigned my position as a club pro in Texas,” said the American who had eight birdies in total, his only bogey of the day coming at the short 14th where he overshot the green from the tee.
“I started working really hard on my golf game them, trying to get it in shape because playing twice a week as a club pro, really didn’t hit the mark. I came here and after a couple of days I was a bit stiff and sore but I felt really good today.
“I didn’t try the Champions Tour as the Tour schools were at the same time last year and where my birthday falls in the middle of June, I wouldn’t have got that many starts over there. But also a good friend of mine, Bob Boyd, who played over here but who sadly passed away last year, told me to come over here and play and I am really glad I did. There are some really good people on this Tour and we play at great courses like this as well.”
The ‘coming home’ feeling was increased for Thelen due to an incredible coincidence in relation to the Cologne course’s greenkeeper, Dirk Thelen.
“It’s amazing really,” said the American. “I met Dirk at the start of the week and because we share the same surname, his father is now looking into the possibility that we might actually be related because my great grandfather came from Germany to America in the last century. So Dirk’s father is doing some research right now to see where we all fall together in the family tree. It is an incredible coincidence you have to admit.”
Second placed Ryall owed his six under par 66 to a barnstorming finish which featured three birdies in the last four holes, but the 52 year old admitted he was simply delighted to be playing at all after injuring his back and having to withdraw from last week’s De Vere Club PGA Seniors Championship.
“I’ve twisted one of my discs at the bottom of my back,” he said. “My physio at home put it back in which made a massive difference but then I just rested even when I came out here and as a result I came here with no real expectations but played lovely.
“Orla, the Tour physio, really helped me here as well. I was struggling yesterday and this morning but she really got me on my feet so between my physio at home and her, they managed to get me playing. I’ve been playing okay recently but you can get these niggling little injuries which set you back a bit.”
Third placed James started well with three birdies in his first four holes and finished well with a birdie at the last in his 67, admitting a lot of hard work done recently on both his chipping and putting were finally paying dividends.
Luis Carbonetti of Argentina and Gary Wolstenholme of England shared fourth place after matching opening 68s, while tournament host Bernhard Langer completed his first competitive round after three months out with a thumb injury with a steady 69 to lie in a share of sixth place with Chile’s Angel Fernandez and Barry Lane of England.
“My thumb didn’t bother me today and I didn’t think about it before hitting the ball which was good,” said Langer. “I’m quite happy with my first round after being out of action for so long. My game was solid and I hit the ball well. Unfortunately four putts just lipped out, otherwise my score would have been even better.”