Magic memories for Madeira master Mats

5/16/2013 11:25:00 AM
Mats Lanner after his incredible victory at the 1998 Madeira Islands Open  (EuropeanTour)
Mats Lanner after his incredible victory at the 1998 Madeira Islands Open (EuropeanTour)
For Mats Lanner, a three-time European Tour winner and referee at this week’s Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI, course set-up in the mornings must provide moments of solitude in which to replay memories of what was one of golf’s great underdog stories.

It was upon the mountain-top track of Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra, surrounded by scenery akin to that of a Hollywood blockbuster, where the Swede provided one of the most inspirational victories in the history of The European Tour.

It was 1998 and Lanner was struggling with his game and his confidence, having experienced glory twice on the Challenge Tour and twice on The European Tour in the preceding 11 years.

A disappointing season on The European Tour in 1997 meant he lost his playing privileges and he had decided to focus on rebuilding on the Challenge Tour.

Things were not going as planned midway through the season, however, and Lanner admitted at the time that he would consider packing it in if things didn’t improve.

His only appearances on The European Tour would be back-to-back tournaments at Slaley Hall in England and the Portuguese island of Madeira, as a former champion of both events.

He started well at the European Grand Prix in Slaley Hall, a glimmer of hope. Alas, cruel fate intervened and the tournament was cancelled after the first round due to weather conditions – the only tournament cancellation in the history of The European Tour.

It was all or nothing at Madeira and, returning to a venue which provided his second victory on The European Tour, the Gothenburg native was a man inspired as he produced a victory which was as heart-warming as it was unlikely.

“It was definitely up there as one of the special moments for me,” said Lanner, now a full-time European Tour referee. “Obviously I had lost my card and I was trying to get it back. I came back here as a former winner and played solid golf for three days and then it was a battle for the last day.

“It was windy, cold and all three of us in the last group were pretty close together all the way through, exchanging the lead by a shot here and there.

“We came to the 18th and it was still a battle and I got up and down from the bunker to win by one. Obviously that was a huge boost for me at that stage, getting my card back and getting going again.

“That year I was concentrating on the Challenge Tour and I hadn’t done that well. I had played reasonably well but it wasn’t enough, so to come here and win again was just incredible.”

Lanner, the only player to have won the Madeira Islands Open twice, relishes every opportunity to return to the picturesque island and he has been impressed by the improvements on the course since his glory days.

“I haven’t been back here many times but my first tournament as a referee was here, shadowing (another former European Tour player) Neal Briggs,” he recalls.

“I have only been here a couple of times after that, so it hasn’t been that much. It’s a tricky course, with the sloping greens and the elevation. Nobody is going to be playing brilliant golf here for all four days so you need to be patient and hang in there.

“It is a thinker’s course, more so back in those days because it was more narrow. It has opened up a bit now.

“It has really improved since I was playing here. The greens are looking great this year, the rough is so much better now than it has ever been so it is definitely going in the right direction.

“The views are inspirational too. If you have a clear day it’s breath-taking, unbelievable.”