By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at Rockliffe Hall
After finishing a close runner-up behind Steen Tinning in 2013, Santiago Luna will be hoping it is second time lucky when he teams up with local caddie Darren Finch once more at this week’s English Senior Open.
Spaniard Luna was paired with Rockliffe Hall member and seven handicap golfer Finch in October last year, when the English Senior Open returned to the Senior Tour schedule following a six-year absence, and it turned out to be a match made in golfing heaven.
Now, ten months on from missing out by just a single stroke at the stunning County Durham venue after Denmark’s Tinning birdied two of the last three holes to take the spoils, the 51 year old Madrid native has re-requested the services of Mr Finch looking for more of his home-grown expertise.
“We built a special bond last year so it will be great to work with Darren again,” said Luna, who is looking for his second win of the season, and second in England, after triumphing in the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship in June.
“We had a lot of fun all week with laughs and jokes and that is the most important thing – to relax. Then you play good golf.
“He helped me a lot in every way across the golf course, Darren was just fantastic. We had a good feeling and a good confidence after a couple of practice rounds and I have to say my scores and my performance were, in a lot of ways, down to him.
“But on the greens, especially, he picked the right line 110% of the time. I had absolute confidence to hit the ball where he told me to and I made a lot of putts on that last day and we almost won.”
During what was a mad-cap, frantic day of enthralling golf on the Sunday of last year’s English Senior Open, in which the lead changed hands several times, Luna found himself two clear of the field after birdieing the 15th hole.
An errant approach to the par four 17th proved pivotal, however, as Luna reflected in his own inimitable way.
“It was like having a cake, which you are eating, and then the other kids come and take your cake before you know it and you are like ‘Where’s my cake gone!?’” laughed the effervescent Luna.
“But to be serious, it all came down to that 17th hole. Steen hit an unbelievable three iron to a few feet for birdie while I, with an easy six iron, made my only mistake of the day and missed it and hit a bad chip.
“When you are in that position close to winning you don’t want to have to think a lot but the end of the story is he made a three and I made a bogey and that was the key.
“It was a crazy day; I don’t know how many times I was up, then he was up, it was brilliant but it was Steen’s day.”
More than 5,000 fans flocked to Rockliffe Hall last year for what was a sun-soaked, autumnal festival of golf and more of the same is expected this year with the tournament’s new location in the schedule falling on the August bank holiday in England.
“The people here were unbelievable last year,” he continued. “You could feel them so close and I would talk to the ball, to the crowds, saying ‘Come on baby, this one is for you!’ and that relationship is nice.
“I have never had that feeling in a golf tournament before joining the Senior Tour, because you are usually kept away from the people, but here you feel the crowds close and have a good experience with them and that makes you want to win for them too!”
Tickets can be bought in advance or on the door for just £10 and under-16s go free. For more details visit www.englishsenioropen.com or call 01325 729999.