Proud new Dad Chris Hanson defied high winds on the opening day of the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne to claim a share of the lead with his compatriot Eddie Pepperell and former professional footballer Stephen Grant of Ireland.
Despite gusts of up to 30mph at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André, in northern France, Hanson refused to be blown off course, carding a three under par round of 67 to continue the fine form he has shown thus far in his debut Challenge Tour season.
Instead of travelling to Kenya at the end of March, the 26 year old – currently 11th in the Challenge Tour Rankings thanks chiefly to a tied fourth finish in Colombia – opted to remain at home in Harrogate, England, with his expectant wife Laura.
Daughter Jessica was duly delivered four weeks ago to give Hanson another mouth to feed, but also a new-found perspective on his career – and indeed life.
He said: “I’ve had a month at home with my wife and Jessica, which I really enjoyed. Now that I’ve got another person to look after I guess there’s a bit more pressure on me to perform, but in some ways having a baby also puts your golf into perspective. It’s been an amazing experience so far, and she’s been as good as gold. I’ve obviously had one or two sleepless nights, but I’m certainly not complaining.”
After notching four birdies in his opening eight holes Hanson had few causes for complaint, though he was frustrated with three bogeys in his next five holes. But an eagle at the par five seventh hole – which was mercifully playing downwind – restored the spring in his step.
He said: “It’s nice to keep my form going, because I’ve started the season really well. I’ve taken to the travelling quite well and managed to play some good golf, so I’m happy with how it’s gone so far. I played well on the EuroPro Tour last year and had a good winter, which set me up nicely for this season. It’s obviously still early days, but hopefully I can keep it going.”
Grant, meanwhile, is keen to make up for lost time, having only picked up a club for the first time aged 25.
The former Ireland Under-21 international forward enjoyed spells at Sunderland, Burnley and more recently Shamrock Rovers in his homeland, before a back injury curtailed his career eight years ago.
He promptly chose to swap the football field for the fairways, and after a difficult introduction to life as a professional golfer, the 35 year old is now beginning to flourish.
Grant picked up five birdies in his round of 67, with a double bogey at the 14th hole – where he lost his ball after a hook from the tee – the only blemish in an otherwise impressive display.
He said: “It was really tough out there, it was just a battle. I was just trying to make pars and stay patient, and for the most part I managed to do that. I played some solid golf, and was in control of my ball all day – other than the one bad swing on the 14th. It went in the bushes on the left and we couldn’t find it so that was frustrating, but I can’t be too upset with a 67 in those conditions.
“It’s the worst wind I’ve played in for a long time, because I’ve been playing on the Hooters Tour in the States for the last year or so and if you get wind and rain over there it normally means a storm is on the way, so you generally tend to get called in off the course before too long. So it was tough, and probably a few years ago I would’ve been blown out of the tournament. But I’m now a much more experienced player, so I’m proud of the way I fought and dug in.”
Pepperell is just starting out in his career, but the 21 year old from Oxford, England, showed admirable maturity to bounce back from an opening bogey with four birdies in his next six holes.
He added a further gain at the 11th hole to take the outright lead, before a bogey at the 16th saw him slip back to three under par.
He said: “I had the ball under control all day, especially for the first 12 or 13 holes. After that the wind really picked up, and life became much tougher. But it’s a good start – I could’ve easily played myself out of the tournament, so to be joint leader is very pleasing.
“The highlight of the day was probably on the 14th, where I had to take a drop from the bushes but managed to find the green with my third shot and then holed a 55 foot putt for a fairly unusual par. I felt a bit embarrassed, but you need a bit of luck on days like this, and I felt I probably deserved it for the way I’d played up until then.”
Dutchman Floris De Vries, Scotland’s Jack Doherty, Frenchman Thomas Fournier, Finland’s Mikko Korhonen and Italian Gregory Molteni all share fourth place on two under par.
Of that quartet it was De Vries, returning from an injury-ravaged season on The European Tour, who produced the most eye-catching card, opening with back to back eagles for the first time in history on the Challenge Tour.
Having driven the green and holed the putt on the par four tenth – his first hole – De Vries promptly chipped in at the par five 11th to race to four under par through two holes.
He promptly gave two shots back at the next two holes, and after birdies at the 18th and eighth holes were cancelled out by a double bogey at the fifth, De Vries signed for an eventful round of 68.
His playing partner Anton Haig of South Africa, winner of the Johnnie Walker Classic at the tender age of 21, marked his first appearance on European soil for almost two years with a highly encouraging round of 69.