THE quiet guy with the slimline figure, Craig Penny, captured the biggest prize of his career on a day when not even the winner could beat the 7,313-yard monster course at Rockliffe Hall.
Penny came home with a level par 72 to take The Journal Champion of Champions title, with four players bunched one shot behind him – Ravensworth’s Joe Fraser, the home club’s Andre Malo, Tyneside’s Dan Beeson and the 2009 winner, City of Newcastle’s Phil Ridden.
Among those four, former amateur boxer Dan Beeson was as big a surprise package as ex-ice hockey star Malo.
As Durham County start to rebuild after the disappointment this year of missing a chance of winning their first Northern Counties League title, Beeson must be high on their list of possible new recruits after a result like this.
There were some massive figures weighing down the scoreboard for the one-round sprint scratch classic of North East golf.
Seven men were in the 90s, including the Durham County matchplay champion David Innes, and there were two three-figure men.
Inevitably, there were some long faces and mutterings about the demanding length of a course which has a lot more variety about it than yardage and posh-looking bunkers.
Penny only made it into the tournament as a result of Rockliffe, staging the event for the first time, allowing substitutes this year. Penny and his brother Mark, both Northumberland players, are also both members of Morpeth and Newbiggin.
Mark won both titles, but Craig made it to Rockliffe because he was runner-up in the Newbiggin championship and thus represented them. Ironically, Mark finished five shots behind his big brother.
The manner of Craig’s victory against a field containing champions at national, county and club level suggested big hitting need be no part of a winning equation at Rockliffe.
The 24-year-old hose fitter, a former pupil at Ashington High School, signed for four birdies and four bogeys having lost around 30 yards from his driving distance since completing a successful weight-loss exercise.
By cutting out junk food and taking up running, Craig, over 6ft 4in and now weighing 14½st, lost three stones in six months after the Christmas of 2008.
Mark, 22, is 6ft 1in and 11½st and Craig said: “My little brother is now whacking his drives around 30 yards further than me, which is a bit annoying.
“When I lost weight, I lost power. I am hoping to get my driving distance back up as my strength comes back and my technique gets better.
“But my driving is a lot straighter now and I think that was the main reason I won today. I kept out of trouble.
“You just had to take care and be patient out there because, considering it was windy, the pins were in tricky positions.”
As the scores illustrated, it was important not to give away too much to the course, and a crucial part of Penny’s round arrived at the par four eighth.
A precious one-under going into the seventh, he bogeyed.
But Penny struck back immediately with his shot of the day, chipping in from 20 yards with a lob wedge.
Rockliffe’s head professional, Tom Goodwin, said: “I think a big part of Craig Penny’s victory was down to him having the right attitude to the course. I feel some of them out there were thinking before they started about how long Rockliffe is and they were beaten before they started.
“Playing here needs the same mindset as anywhere else.
“You don’t try to force birdies if you drop a shot, you don’t try to battle long holes by smashing the cover off the ball. There is a lot of roll on the ball here, and you just have to hit the fairways.
“You keep your cool, pick your way round the course and don’t try to do anything different or spectacular.
“Ask Craig Penny, because that was a classic example of how to win at Rockliffe. Many congratulations to him.”
2010 JOURNAL CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
72: Craig Penny (Newbiggin)
73: Joe Fraser (Ravensworth, second), Andre Malo (Rockliffe Hall, third), Dan Beeson (Tyneside, fourth), Phil Ridden (City of Newcastle, fifth)
74: Chris Hewitt (Beamish Park), Lloyd Bond (Hartlepool)
75: Dean Harmer (Burgham Park), Jason McGuire (Heworth), Julian Wynn (Eaglescliffe)
76: Adam Rochester (Blackwell Grange), Sean Jackson (Magdalene Fields), James Simpson (Whickham), Sean Heads (Hexham), Ross Crowe (Westerhope), Martin Coup (Hexham)
77: Lewis Fairbairn (Goswick), Kristian Goldie (Gosforth), Martin Coup (Hexham), Gavin Nesbit (Boldon), Jonny Lynn (Arcot Hall), Simon Lee (City of Newcastle), Mark Penny (Morpeth)
78: Euan Waller (Eaglescliffe), Graham Stephenson (Dunstanburgh Castle), Greg Johnson (Wynyard), Craig Hamilton (Barnard Castle), Jack Hermeston (City of Newcastle), Greg Southwick (Houghton-le-Spring), Andy Scrimshaw (Prudhoe), Nicky Maddison (City of Newcastle)
79: Jordan Gibson (Newcastle United), Richie Rutherford (Allendale), Andrew Hastings (Consett), Duncan Douglas (Slaley Hall), Jack Hermeston (City of Newcastle), Graeme Marchbank (Durham City), Kevin Cademy-Taylor (Newcastle United)
80: David Machin (Heworth), Peter Sym (Ponteland), Steven King (Garesfield), Ben Tetlow (Wynyard), Steven Dance (Ramside)
81: Wayne Hewitt (Bishop Auckland), Jackson Kneeshaw (Oakleaf), Luke Stone (Roseberry Grange), Phil Didsbury (Blyth), Graham Forrest (Northumberland), Joe Cowper (Darlington), Martin Carss (Alnmouth), Phil Didsbury (Blyth)
82: Richard Parsons (Dinsdale Spa), Stuart Tuthill (Seaham), John Parker (Ravensworth), Gary Hornsby (Seahouses), Andrew Stokoe (Backworth), George Winter (Bedlingtonshire), Ian McEntee (South Moor), Scott Phillips (Seaton Carew), Tom Rowland (Prudhoe)
83: Eddie Cuthbert (Whitburn), Kevin Honeybell (Stocksfield), Ross Young (Linden Hall), Mark Dawson (Bamburgh)
84: Stuart Goodwin (Stressholme), Neil Appleby (Ineos), Derek Goldsmith (Wearside), Chris Parker (Birtley)
85: Steve Binks (South Shields), Robert Balmbra (Warkworth), Mark Wharton (Matfen Hall), Martyn Jobling (Alnmouth Village), Graeme Border (Castle Eden), Richard Robson-Crosby (Ponteland), Steven Burn (Woodham), Paul Oliver (Wallsend)
86: Arny Higgin (Brancepeth Castle), John Hann (Mount Oswald Manor), Arron Robertson (Hobson), Ronnie Dixon (Parklands)
87: Bradley Hildreth (Billingham), John Mcintyre (Garesfield), Martin Lamb (Tynedale), David Charlton (Ryton), Alex Christensen (Whitley Bay)
88: Ben Luckley (Tynemouth)
89: Stephen Fairhurst (Crook), Phil Ansell (Close House), Stuart Lowrey (Wooler), John Simmons (Newcastle United), Mark Dawson (Bamburgh Castle)
90: Phil Stores (Headlam Hall), Jason Nicholls (Percy Wood)
92: Darren Arkle (Rothbury), David Innes (Hartlepool)
93: Kevin Green (Hetton-le-Hill), Mark Sanderson (Longhirst Hall)
95: Michael Cook (Knotty Hill)
101: Stuart Rutherford (Bellingham)
102: Colin Donaldson (Alnwick)
NO RETURNS: Keith Lackenby (High Throston), Paul Ward (Chester-le-Street)
WITHDRAWALS: Phil Dalton (Haltwhistle), John Hutton (Whickham)