NO-ONE was more surprised Liam Ball won the Bolton Golf Association Championships than the man himself.
Ball took the title when he beat the favourite Gareth Hastie at Chorley Golf Club on Thursday night.
Hastie, of Bolton Golf Club, was the favourite as he went for his fifth title –- his third in succession.
Ball, who won the title in 2010 and spent eight months as a pro the following year before getting his amateur status back, was shocked to be in the final.
“I didn’t expect to qualify this year,” said the Turton Golf Club member.
“I haven’t been playing much. I haven’t had time, I work Monday to Friday for a builder and play with some friends at Turton on a Saturday. That’s all.
“I put in a bit of practice last week and played quite well so I just had a go.
“I played carefree and I was quite solid but nothing spectacular. I was like that all week.
“Gareth wasn’t at his best, I think he’d say that himself, and it was a bit of a scrap here and there. I was the best of a bad bunch.”
The game did not live up to expectations with the reigning champion not at his best and Ball just doing enough to keep his nose in front in a 3&1 victory.
Hastie's putting let him down at crucial moments and 24-year-old Ball's quality at bunkers played a big part in the victory, chipping out of the sand and sinking his putt on four occasions.
“Gareth had a handful of chances I thought he would make and didn’t,” said Ball. “I played solid and the putt on the ninth from about 40 feet was probably the one that kept my momentum going.
“Then the big ones were when I was up and down at the bunker on the 14th (to halve the hole and remain one ahead) and the birdie on the 15th (with a 12-foot putt to win the hole and go two up).”
Hastie won the first hole, but that was the only time he was in front.
Ball won the second and the fifth to go ahead. Hastie levelled by winning the eighth but Ball hit straight back with that 40-foot putt – the shot of the match – to win the ninth and retake the lead that he never relinquished.
“To beat Mark (Millhouse) in the semi-final in a fantastic game and then to beat Gareth in the final is awesome, the best outcome you could hope for,” said Ball.
He became only the second player from Turton Golf Club ever to win the title in the 78 years it has been played, C D Greenhalgh having won it three times in the 1930s.
Greenhalgh never retained the title, however, so Ball will be looking to become the first Turton player to do that when his home club hosts the championship next year.
Hastie was looking to join Howard Broadbent in second place on the all-time list of winners of a tournament which began in its current format in 1931. The leader is Jack Taylor with 10 titles, a record many believe will never be beaten.