Noel Ratcliffe drives this shot at the Byron Bay Golf Course yesterday on his way to winning the Australian PGA Seniors Championships.
Noel Ratcliffe drives this shot at the Byron Bay Golf Course yesterday on his way to winning the Australian PGA Seniors Championships. GARY CHIGWIDDEN

Ratcliffe claims Byron PGA Seniors Championship

AS ONE of the oldest 'seniors' in the Australian PGA Seniors Championship at Byron Bay, Noel Ratcliffe was feeling every one of his nearly 64 years of age after claiming the title yesterday.

But the $14,400 winner's cheque probably soothed a few of the aches and pains, as one wag in the crowd summed up, what one wag always says when a professional wins some sporting event: “Not bad for three days' work.”

Indeed it wasn't, but Ratcliffe had to overcome an arthritic thumb and a sore right elbow which required a couple of physio treatments this week in order to keep him on course.

“I haven't had a win for over three years,” Ratcliffe confessed.

“My last win was the Irish (seniors open) in Europe and I got injured not long after that and I've actually been playing injured ever since.

“I've had two treatments this week just to get through this week, but it has been all right the past couple of days.

“It's been a long time between drinks in terms of wins, but it is really nice to achieve this as I'm one of the oldest buggers in the field.”

He was the only professional to card a sub-par total over the three-day tournament, as his fellow contenders fell away in the final round due to a strong westerly breeze which made the greens too slick for many to handle.

Ratcliffe finished the 54-hole tournament at four-under after recording rounds of 70, 70 and 72 and held his nerve with the putter as his fellow contenders John Clifford, Terry Gale, Stuart Reese and 2007 champion David Merriman fell off the pace to finish in a four-way tie for second at two-over.

“We all knew that it was going to be tough conditions out there with the wind that was blowing,” Ratcliffe said.

“The greens are not that big and they are very, very difficult.

“It was like being back on Royal Melbourne except on greens that are a third the size.

“If you miss a green it is very tough to get up and down and I just tried to keep the ball underneath the hole virtually all day to give myself an uphill putt.

“Some of the putts out there were virtually impossible.

“The guys I played with today, if they slipped behind the green, there was virtually no chance of getting anywhere near the hole.”

While he regularly plays on the European seniors tour, it was Ratcliffe's first time at Byron Bay since the late 1960s and he didn't remember a thing about the course.

Perhaps that lack of familiarity with the layout actually helped him as he went into the tournament with a completely open mind and without the fanfare of some of his more fancied rivals like Rodger Davis, who started the day in contention at one-under and crashed out to finish four-over.

“I was wondering before I went out there how I would go after being right up there in contention,” Ratcliffe said.

“The pressure is on you all the way, but I was pretty cool from the start, and starting with a birdie really helped my confidence.”

Ratcliffe was certainly a 'late bloomer' in the sport.

According to his Wikipedia entry, he didn't get a set of clubs until he was 21 and didn't turn pro until 1974.

His best win as a young pro was the Belgian Open and on the seniors tour he has twice won the Irish Senior Open (2003 and 2005) and topped the European senior order of merit in 2000.

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