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Jeune claims his first East Coast Open

THE legends would have approved.

When Simon Jeune parred the 16th hole to clinch his first East Coast Open title at Te Puia Springs on Sunday afternoon, it was a win for the ages.

Fifty-two is not exactly ancient but Jeune, without asking for it, was the sole carrier of a torch from an era almost consigned to the “back in the day” files. Almost.

The memories of Poverty Bay-East Coast greats Peter Rouse and Eric Gordon still permeate the Springs course. The pair are gone from this world but are immortalised on the clubhouse honours boards and through stories inevitably told as the beer (or more appropriately, gin) flows on the 19th.

Jeune will probably not receive membership to that illustrious club but he does have a strong connection.

As a talented teenager, he was immersed in the thick of hotly competitive times in the 1980s. Gordon and Rouse were there, along with a classy list of other notables.

An 18-year-old Jeune made the Poverty Bay-East Coast team for the 1981 Government Life Freyberg Rosebowl national interprovincial on the Poverty Bay course and played his part in what is still PBEC’s finest performance at the annual matchplay event — sixth overall.

Thirty-four years later he could still walk into a PBEC senior squad — if he chose to — and holds the utmost respect of his peers, a reputation further enhanced on Sunday.

Beating the province's best playersJeune collected the scalps of two of the province’s best players in recent years.

He absorbed the pressure of a tense semifinal to beat William Brown on the 19th in the morning semifinal, then crashed defending champion Andrew Higham’s 29th birthday party in the final.

“It was a victory of stubbornness,” said Jeune, whose 3 and 2 win avenged last year’s loss to Higham in the final.

“In terms of ball-striking, I didn’t play that well but got the job done. I made some real clutch putts, which is what you need to do.”

Higham, who turned 29 on Saturday, knew exactly what he was in for.

The pair met in the final of the Poverty Bay Golf Club senior men’s club championship last year. Jeune made birdie on the 36th hole to win 2-up, claiming his first senior champion’s crown at the Bay and denying Higham his fifth in a row.

Jeune also led Poverty Bay to the Oligoi Jug interclub title with a player-of-the-series performance, and made the final of the 2015 Poverty Bay Open, losing to Peter Kerekere.

Little emotionJeune shows little emotion on the course. A mutter under the breath or an aggressive swing of the club after a bad shot is usually his limit.

He’s a technician of the game, regularly working on his backswing in an effort to get the club into that perfect position on impact — the ideal result being a low ball flight that scythes through rather than fights the wind.

But arguably his strength — on top of a quiet determination and unflappable demeanour under pressure — is a polished short game and that was the foundation to Sunday’s win in only his third time at the open.

Jeune led 3-up after nine holes without producing anything spectacular other than a birdie on the seventh. Higham, the undisputed prince of Te Puia — Rouse will forever be the king — birdied 10 to go 2-down then won 11 to close it to one.

Jeune responded with birdie on the 12th and maintained his 2-up lead to the 16th where he finished off Higham with a par.

He didn’t light up the course but still played par golf, which will win a lot more matches than it loses.

Jeune didn’t rabbit on in his victory speech. It was left to his mates and peers to praise a performance that continues what he modestly described as “a good run” . . . a run that is likely to continue if he returns to Te Puia this weekend for the Oligoi Jug interclub pennants.

STARING IT DOWN: Simon Jeune fires a shot into the green during last year’s Poverty Bay Open. Jeune lost the championship 16 final but went one better at the Te Puia Springs Hotel East Coast Open last weekend, beating defending champion Andrew Higham in the final. Picture by Paul Rickard