SAM Horsfield claimed his maiden European Tour title at the Hero Open after showing nerves of steel down the stretch.
The Mancunian raised in Florida beat off the challenge of Belgium’s Thomas Detry to seal a one-stroke victory at the Forest of Arden in the West Midlands.
The 23-year-old became the first home winner of the Hero Open – formerly the English Open – since Lee Westwood in 1998.
Horsfield, a protege of Ian Poulter, became the fifth English winner in total and achieved something the Ryder Cup star has not achieved in 20 years on tour – a victory in England.
The win also moves Horsfield to the top of the UK Swing Rankings, from which the top 10 players at the conclusion of the ISPS Handa Wales Open will earn exemptions to next month’s US Open at Winged Foot.
Horsfield said: “It’s crazy, I can’t put it in to words.
“I made a bad bogey on 15, then on 17 we wanted to leave a good five-wood number and I did – 233, wind out to the left. Hit a great shot there.
“It’s special. With everything that’s going on in the world right now, I’m thankful that the European Tour has been able to put on tournaments for us to play.
“I’ve been in Orlando for the last three months and felt like my game was right there. I played decently last week, had a bad finish but kept the positives from that.
“I played solid all week and gave myself a lot of opportunities and made one enough,” said the player who has two 59s to his name already in his career – his first came aged 13.
Sam’s back nine fails to prove costly
HORSFIELD had endured a difficult back nine in his third round after giving an on-course interview to Sky Sports walking down the 10th fairway.
The former University of Florida player said he was able to go low by being aggressive.
After speaking to Tim Barter, who asked him about his 59 last month at Florida’s Streamsong, a par 73, Sam relinquished a six-shot lead he had built on the front nine, making a double bogey and giving up three more shots.
But the Englishman, who pulled of the Great Britain & Ireland team before the 2015 Walker Cup team, showed true determination on an exciting final day.
He maintained his one-shot overnight lead over the chasing pack for the vast part of the round.
Horsfield was knocked off the perch briefly when Detry birdied the 17th to move to the front on 18-under par.
But the Belgian missed a crucial par putt at the last from four feet to drop back to 17-under alongside the eventual winner.
Horsfield capitalised on his opportunity at the penultimate hole, playing the par-five to perfection.
The 2017 Qualifying School winner picked up a shot to earn a one-one stroke advantage stepping onto the tee of the par-three final hole.
A deft lag putt left him with an easy par putt to lift the trophy, after signing for a four-under par 68 – and an 18-under total.
Detry only sees positives from UK Swing
DETRY was only taking the positives after another near miss looking for his maiden win.
He said: “A lot of things have been going through my mind, but honestly I have nothing to be disappointed about right now.
“I played some really good golf. The greens are getting trickier down the stretch and I over-read that putt on 18.
“But I’m very pleased with the way I finished on those last few holes to be honest.
“I hit some very good shots out there. Another missed opportunity, but I’ll move on and forget about it – and just try to win next week.
“It was tough out there, the wind started to swirl a little bit and 16 and 17 are tough holes with a lot of water around.
“You have to be careful because you can quickly make a high number, but I handled it pretty well, like I said I’ll just move on.
“I’m feeling very positive about the rest of the UK Swing now.
“I’ve picked up a few points for the UK Swing Rankings so it will change a few things.
“I might not play every single tournament now but we’ll see how things go. But I’m definitely playing next week so I’m looking forward to that.”
Forest of Arden’s £50k from Golf for Good to give away
Horsfield, who left the UK to live in Florida at the age of five, moved from 43rd to 18th in the Race to Dubai Rankings.
His win concluded another successful week on the UK Swing for the European Tour’s Golf for Good initiative.
Forest of Arden received £50,000 from the tour to be distributed to charities of their choice – with Blood Cancer UK being awarded £20,000, and local charities Newlife and Birmingham Mind receiving £15,000 each.
•For the final scores in the Hero Open click here.