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.