ESSEX’S Dale Whitnell overcame “10 long years” as a professional golfer and a two-hole play-off against Somerset’s Laurie Canter to emerge victorious at the KPMG Trophy, in Belgium, on Sunday.
The Forrester Park Golf Club member, who played in the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion alongside Tommy Fleetwood, began the final round three back of the lead.
But Whitnell, who grew up playing golf at Five Lakes GC, and lost a foursomes match at Merion against Ricky Fowler, birdied half of Millennium Golf holes, making just one bogey on his way to carding an eight-under par 63.
The 2009 English Golf Union Order of Merit winner who has played 13 times on the European Tour since 2009 – but not since 2012 – posted a target of 23-under as the clubhouse leader.
Playing in the final group, Canter, the 2010 South African Amateur Champion, eagled the 72nd hole to send the tournament into a play-off.
And after both players birdied the first extra hole, they played the 18th once more.
For a sixth time this week, Whitnell birdied the par five and sealed victory when Canter failed to make an up-and-down after hitting it through the green in two.
“It changes my life completely,” an emotional Whitnell said. “I’ve been pro for 10 years, it’s been very tough but finally I’ve done it.
“I’m speechless to be honest, it’s been a long 10 years. Finally,” added the 2009 Portuguese Amateur Champion.
“I had been playing good coming up to this week. I struggled the first day a little bit, but the second day I shot seven-under and played great – and then shot seven-under on the third day.
“Today, I thought, right, I’ll just go and enjoy myself and try to pick away a few holes where there are opportunities. I managed my game really well, which was quite important.”
The win brings an enormous bounty for the 31-year-old, who had been battling just to get starts on the European Challenge Tour, having played on the PGA EuroPro, Jamega and Gecko Tours in recent years.
Despite limited playing opportunities this season, he will move from 53rd to 17th on the Road to Mallorca Rankings and now finds himself staring down a European Tour card.
“I’ve played seven events on the Challenge Tour this season and this obviously sorts me out for the rest of the year, which is what I wanted to do, so I’m really pleased.
And when asked how his family would react to his win, Whitnell added: “They’ll all be cheering me on, my mum and dad. I’m speechless. It’s amazing.”
For Canter, the Belgium result was bittersweet. He came close to earning his first Challenge Tour win, but the runner’s-up finish bolstered his campaign as he moved to 37th on the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
Home favourite Christopher Mivis collected the low-Belgian honours at the KPMG Trophy as he finished in a tied for 15th place on 16-under at Millennium Golf – the course he grew up playing with Belgian star Thomas Pieters.
Bryce Easton also used the KPMG Trophy to make a big move on the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
The South African began the week in the 25th position, but by finishing in a share of eighth and recording his fifth top 15 showing this season, he rose to the 16th spot – one place shy of a European Tour card with eight tournaments remaining.
The Challenge Tour will now return to France for a third time this year for this week’s Open de Bretagne at Golf Bluegreen de Pléneuf Val André, which runs from September 5-8.