One of the beauties of the European Senior Tour is that all the players have fond memories of successes gleaned during their previous careers on The European Tour.
However, for Ireland’s Des Smyth and Gordon Brand Jnr of Scotland, the return to Royal Porthcawl this week for The Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open has brought particular joy for they were successive winners of the old Coral Classic at the south Wales venue on The European Tour in 1981 and 1982.
Smyth triumphed with a six under par total of 282, the highlight of which was an opening round of 67 which helped him hold off a trio of stars who tied for second place; England’s Michael King, Ireland’s John O’Leary and two time Masters Champion, Bernhard Langer of Germany.
“It was a long time ago but I do remember the thrill of winning that event and I enjoyed playing the golf course very much,” said Smyth. “I am looking forward to it very much this week again because I enjoy playing links courses – I’ve been brought up on links golf.
“My first round 67 was pretty special and I did play well all that week. I remember hustling with Bernhard down the stretch and that was a big thrill and I believe Brian Barnes was in the mix as well.
“But I was just delighted to win. They were good times for me in the early 80s because I was winning a few tournaments on The European Tour around then like in Manchester and Newcastle.
“I have to say though it was nice to come back down the drive here to Porthcawl and nothing has really changed in terms of the area and the clubhouse. On the course I think they’ve moved a few tees back here and there to cope with modern technology and the new balls but otherwise it presents the same problems it did back then in that you have to avoid the bunkers and hit a lot of straight shots.”
Following Smyth into the Coral Classic winners’ circle in 1982 was Brand Jnr who also held off a Major Champion in the shape of Australia’s Greg Norman with a scintillating showing; rounds of 69-70-66-68 giving him a 15 under par total of 273 and a three shot winning margin over the Australian.
“It was a hell of a win for me to be honest, it was my first win on Tour and probably, in real terms, the best win I had,” said Brand Jnr. “I had had a good amateur record and I had won the Tour School but coming out on Tour you just don’t know how good you are.
“But that win was a massive moment in my career. I remember once I had won, I went and sat on one of the benches at the front of the clubhouse which is still there today and I could feel all the energy and the adrenalin just drain out of me, I was just exhausted from the experience but obviously thrilled at the same time.
“I played exceptionally well to shoot 273 and, I have to be honest, when I came back here last year to play in the Seniors event I actually don’t know how I managed to shoot 15 under par for the week back then. That was really great golf on a tough course.
“I beat a lot of good players that week including Brian Barnes, Carl Mason and Greg. But I had a great caddie that week, Pete Coleman, and at the times that I needed a bit of nurturing and a bit of help, he was there to give me that.
“As I said, I played great that week but it is one thing playing well, it is another thing finishing it off and thankfully I managed to do that. The key here is that your iron play has to be very good and you have to drive it well.
“Like any links course, you have to have a little bit more imagination than playing on the stadium type courses we do now and this course has held its own over the years.
“It would be nice to revive some memories of 1982 this week and hopefully I can as I am playing pretty well at the moment but this is a different animal to La Moye (where Brand Jnr won the Matrix Jersey Classic two weeks ago). It is not unlike that course, the only difference being the fact that this is about five shots harder than La Moye. But I am looking forward to the week.”
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