2006: Strong short game fuels upstart’s win
England’s Matthew Nixon gave new meaning to the old adage “a good putter is a match for anyone” in defeating Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson after 38 holes Aug. 19 to take the British Boys Championship.
The British Boys was a test of stamina for the 256 competitors who started the week at Royal Aberdeen. The last two standing played nine rounds in six days. How Nixon, 17, managed to survive the grueling week and lift himself to heights never before seen in the 85-year history of the championship is a question Akesson probably will ask for the rest of his life.
Akesson, 17, was the favorite in the 36-hole final. A runner-up to Marius Thorp in the World Junior Championship, Akesson plays off a plus-4 handicap and arrived in Aberdeen as Sweden’s top-ranked junior.
Nixon arrived with no expectations. That wasn’t surprising. He had never before figured in any English junior team and wasn’t even the highest-ranked player in his home county of Lancashire.
Nixon outlasted strong England player Andrew Johnston in their semifinal match with an eagle-birdie-birdie-par finish to earn the finals. That finish foreshadowed what was to come.
Not even an old fashioned Scottish “haar” (sea mist) could dampen Nixon’s spirits. The haar floated in from the sea and turned Aberdeen’s Balgownie Links into an ethereal setting. Officials had to suspend play as the finalists stood on the 16th fairway.
Nixon was 2 down at that point and found himself 4 down through 17. He reduced it to 3 down after the first 18 and then put on a short-game clinic that will not be forgotten by those who watched.
Nixon went around Royal Aberdeen in 4-under 67 in the afternoon, but the score does not tell the whole story.
He chipped in twice for improbable halves, once from 70 feet at the 31st hole and then from 30 feet at the 33rd. He recorded only 24 putts for the last 18 and only nine on the homeward nine. He made three consecutive sand saves from the 34th hole to keep the match alive, drawing level with the Swede at the 34th after Akesson drove into a gorse bush and made bogey.
Akesson had birdie putts of 10 and 4 feet, respectively, on the 36th and 37th holes but could not convert either for the win. Nixon ended the match when he two-putted from 70 feet and Akesson three-putted from half that distance.
“It was exciting,” Nixon said.
“I love making it hard work for myself. I think I’ve just realized that I have a good short game. He’s such a good player but this place just inspires me.
“I’ve never had a round like that in my life. I came here with no expectations and even if I had lost, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. But this is beyond my wildest dreams.”
Akesson was inconsolable afterward, walking off across the links on his own to hide his emotions.
Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw and East Tennessee State’s Fred Warren were on hand to witness a fine array of talent. Warren watched ETSU player Jordan Findlay, the 2004 champion, survive two rounds only to lose to Belgium’s Hugues Joannes in Round 3.
Incoming ETSU freshman Niall Kearney from Royal Dublin lived up to Warren’s expectations by reaching the quarterfinals before losing to Sam Stuart.
Too bad Nixon has no desire to play college golf. With his short game he’d fit into most programs.