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Posted on: 6th Dec 2007

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Austria Continues Challenge of Mainland Europe

The days when the ITC was almost a case of which British trio would take the title appear to have come to an end, perhaps forever…if the trend emerging from Roda, Murcia, Spain is to continue.

When education programmes throughout the PGAs of Europe membership raise the playing standard of club and teaching professionals, as well as the elite tournament players, what healthier indicator could there be of a professional sport that’s widening its horizons?

The comprehensive ITC scoreboard had a different look in 2007 right from the opening rounds with names such as Holland, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Germany, South Africa, UAE, Finland, Poland, Switzerland, up there battling for the lead at various stages, while Scotland, England and Ireland were uncharacteristically lower down.

Some of these teams included Brits in their trio, it’s true, but only Wales as a team from the UK were up there swapping strokes with the leaders by the closing holes.

So Austria’s impressive victory in the 2007 tournament at Roda, Murcia, Spain, with its record entry of 28 countries, was the latest confirmation that the European team championship has become a wide-open event, featuring new generations of players who have been expertly coached in their national education programmes.

To be fair to defending champions Scotland, who once threatened to monopolise the crown back in the nineties there was, however, a tartan touch to the final blow that nosed Austria ahead of Wales.

St Andrews-born ‘ex-Jock’ Gordon Manson, who has worked in Austria ‘spreading the gospel of golf’ for 23 years, sank the winning 12-foot put at the second hole of a sudden death play-off in fading light and increasing wind chill.

After the two teams had ended a four-round tussle for supremacy on twenty-five under par, trading birdies and body blows in seemingly never-ending fashion, Wales had sent out Andy Barnett in a head-to-head shoot-out with Manson – back to tournament play after four years as Austria’s national team coach – but his two well-played regulation pars were not enough.

While two of Austria’s trio were seasoned campaigners in Manson and Claude Grenier, the tournament unearthed a gem in Florian Ruprecht, one of the new generation nurtured by their former Head of Training, Jonathan Mannie    , who has now succeeded Manson as national team coach.

Although this is essentially a team effort, it was nonetheless an honour for rookie Ruprecht to share best individual scoring honours with Andy Barnett on –12.

“I’ve been through the PGA education system,” he said “And I’m a teaching professional, not a tournament player.” Fair enough. But would his brilliant form in this event change his career path. “I’m not sure yet,” he said with a smile almost as wide as his obvious talent.

In one of the closest and most enthralling final-day battles ever in the competition, the two leaders were chased superbly for third place by Italy who were fifteen-under at one staged but fell back by two shots. This constituted a massive display by the all-Italian trio of Mauro Bianco, Fernando Pasqualucci and Mario Tadini.

Due to travel delays they arrived only on the evening preceding the event and their first look at the course was when they teed off in the first round. Well played, Italy…

And well played, Finland, too. For a country with a climate that doesn’t encourage all-the-year round golf, their team of Harri Murtonen, Jyry Peltomaki, and Sakari Aho, all ‘home-grown’, performed magnificently to share joint-8th place with Poland and Switzerland, on eight under par.

Other Scandinavian countries joined Finland in terms of emerging players making a fine contribution to an outstanding tournament. For Denmark, on his debut in the championship, Thomas Nilsson gave them a second- round boost with a six-under-par 66 that featured a phenomenal finish of six birdies in the final nine holes.

Meanwhile, for Norway, Morten Haeras, took the eye early on with opening rounds of 67-67,and promising to be the player of the tournament, before slipping away slightly though, no doubt, sharpening his appetite for more. Holland had promised much by sharing the first round lead with Wales, thanks to the efforts of Bronno Valk (68), and Johan Eerdmans (69), but they were unable to sustain their impressive start.

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