Emma Nilsson of Sweden during a practice round


Belgian ends her three year victory famine

Manon de Roey ended a three-year quest for her first tournament victory as a professional by winning the WPGA International Challenge at Stoke by Nayland Hotel Golf & Spa on 15th September.

But in doing so, the 26-year-old from Belgium had to survive a searching examination from Lydia Hall, the defending champion.

All of which resulted in the two engaging in an enthralling duel in the Suffolk sunshine. Hall had won the tournament at the same venue 12 months beforehand by prevailing in a sudden death play-off against Ines Lescudier of France. So there was an unmistakeable sense of déjà vu after Hall birdied the par-three 18th on the Gainsborough course to tie the 54-hole scores at 11-under.

Back up the 18th they went but this time there was to be no happy ending for the 30-year-old from Wales.The confidence she displayed in sinking the putt that forced the play-off seemed to evaporate as she missed a much shorter one for par.

De Roey, by contrast, held her nerve to hole from a metre and claim the €5,600 first prize and, more importantly, that hitherto elusive first tournament triumph. She had admitted before going into the final round a shot clear of Hall and two ahead of England’s Felicity Johnson that there had been a couple of occasions when she was found wanting at the business end of a tournament. Clearly, however, those memories failed to haunt her this time as Hall proved a dogged and relentless opponent, especially on the back nine.

The two-shot advantage De Roey had at the turn became three as Hall bogeyed the par three 11th but her response of three birdies on the bounce restored parity.  Two of the birdies were inches away from becoming potential tournament changing eagles but De Hoey remained unfazed in the face of her pursuer’s birdie blitz.  Outwardly that is. Inwardly, however, she admitted the nerves began to jangle.

“I was a little nervous over the last two holes,” she said. “I was actually less nervous on the play-off hole than I had been on the last actual holes.

“I just had to play my own game – I was bogey-free which was good.  “I’ve been playing well for the past couple of weeks so it was just a matter of it coming all together and this week it did.  “Lydia made me work for it, which is how it should be. It was a great match.”

Leading scores: M De Roey (Belgium) 205 (-11)*, L Hall (Wales) 205 (-11); F Johnson (England) 208 (-8); E Nilsson (Sweden) 210 (-6).

*Won in a play-off

The preceding LETAS Pro-Am on Wednesday 12th September will include amongst the amateur players BBC Look East presenter Stewart White and Jenni Falconer from the ITV “This Morning” show.

Spectators are welcome to come and watch both events free of charge. Meals and refreshments will be available for purchase from the hotel and clubhouse throughout the day and evening over all four days – including the popular Mediterranean-style buffet lunch from 12 – 2pm in the Gallery upstairs overlooking the stunning lake and signature 18th hole!

The family-owned Stoke by Nayland Golf Club has welcomed women and girls into the game since it opened 45 years ago and there is now a thriving ladies’ section which regularly achieves impressive results in local, regional and national championships. Free entry to watch the LETAS event helps to encourage and inspire more women and girls to take up the game.

The 54-hole event is the only LETAS event to be staged in the UK this year and includes 15 WPGA members, comprising winners from the WPGA’s One Day Series and the remaining places secured via a qualifying Order of Merit over the same period.

Fifteen spots are also allocated to the leading English amateurs decided by England Golf. The recent English Women’s Amateur champion, Georgina Blackman, will be in the field and is a player to watch. The 22-year-old from Chelmsford graduated from Western Kentucky University in May and will look forward to testing herself against the professional players.

Sweden’s Emma Nilsson currently leads the Order of Merit by just under 1700 points from Elia Folch of Spain, with the winner of this week’s event earning 5,000 points. Nilsson has enjoyed a strong season with a win at the Belfius Ladies Open in July, and a further two runner-up placings in the Terre Blanche Ladies Open in April and the Viaplay Ladies Finnish Open in early June.

“I’m very excited for this week in England. This will be my 5th time playing the WPGA International Challenge. I really like the course and the greens are always in good condition. And we will stay at the hotel on the course, which is really nice. My results in the last two tournaments have been 10th and 11th, so I’m really looking forward to the week,” said Nilsson.

Last year’s WPGA International Challenge winner Lydia Hall of Wales, comes into this week’s event in good form, recording a tie for 30th place in the LET’s Lacoste Ladies Open de France last week. Hall has combined playing on the Symetra Tour in the United States with her LET and LET Access Series commitments. A defence of her title is high on Hall’s agenda.

Play gets underway on Thursday morning at 8.00 and will continue until around 7pm on both Thursday and Friday, and then after the cut on Friday night, the final day’s play on Saturday will be from 9am until around 4pm – with free admission to the public every day.

Follow live scoring at http://www.access.letscoring.com/leaderboard/2314/

Photo Credit: Emma Nilsson – Current leader of the LETAS Order of Merit. Image courtesy of LETAS.

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