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Lizard basks in the shootout sun

POVERTY Bay shootout and intermediate club champion Gray Clapham will not be changing his profile picture on the NZ Golf handicap website.

Staring nonchalantly back at you next to the 11.2 handicap index is a little green lizard.

It represents the golfing nickname “Lizard” bestowed on Clapham by his cohorts — a not exactly complimentary branding he has accepted, indeed embraced.

But on Sunday, after nearly eight hours, Clapham spat in the face of the “Lizard” label by winning the 2015 Gary Bates Ltd men’s 19-hole shootout on his home Poverty Bay course.

The popular photographer/graphic designer parred the 18th to pry Brent Colbert’s clinging fingertips from the ledge, sending him plummeting to the waiting arms of 17 other also-rans.

The shootout is one of the highlights on the Poverty Bay Golf Club calendar. The 19 qualifiers come together each November to decide a title rewarded with a wallet-filling wad.

All 19 tee off the first hole and the player with the worst net is sent packing on each green. A chip-off or putt-off decides any ties.

It is the nearest players get to experiencing the pressures of professional golf. With every hole, the stakes get higher and the air gradually becomes thick enough to cut with a spatula.

“I love the shootout,” said Clapham.

“It’s a great format . . . you strive all year just to make it into the final field and then on the day you face potential elimination at every flag, so every hole must be played like it’s the final hole. The adrenalin is pumping with every stroke.”

There was a time when Clapham would have been rated next to no chance in such a psychologically demanding arena. His habit of going tactically and mentally AWOL on the course earned him his nickname — a referral to the “lizards” being let loose in his head.

He has made the last two of a shootout final — losing to Duncan Bush — but it was the only time he had made it past the ninth hole in 13 attempts.

Respected contenderThis year, though, Clapham went into the final as a respected contender. In September he claimed easily the highlight of his otherwise modest career when he won the intermediate men’s club championship — a feat that requires consistently good golf over several weeks.

There is an ironic main reason for that and last Sunday’s success: injury.

Clapham tore the bicep in his arm during the King of the Coast open tournament at Tolaga Bay in July. It resulted in his being unable to complete a full backswing, a restriction that has proved a blessing. His condensed swing has produced a more accurate long game, particularly off the tee.

Clapham said he flew under the radar for much of the shootout final, and felt he was in the title running only from the 15th on.

With his mate Pete Goodwin on his bag and “helping me keep the lizard in its cage”, he watched as Harvey Johanson (chip-off on 15), Simon Jeune (double bogey on 16) and Basil Payne (17) fell.

That left seven-handicapper Colbert — “a very tough and competitive golfer in any situation” — and Clapham, who was not in any way distracted by the bright orange pants Colbert donned for the final.

Colbert found the bunker on the 18th with his second and Clapham hit a 6-utility club to the bottom of the green, leaving him a 50-foot uphill putt for birdie.

He produced a beauty, leaving his ball 2½ feet from the hole. Colbert’s par attempt slid past and Clapham knocked in the pressure putt for victory.

“To win it, particularly against the seasoned characters of Simon Jeune and Brent Colbert, was huge for me,” Clapham said.

As to potentially shrugging off the “Lizard” tag . . . “I might be cursed for mentioning it but it feels like the Lizard has found a nice warm place, and is finally just relaxing in the sun, as good lizards are supposed to do.”

FIELD OF SHOOTOUT DREAMS: The 19-man field for the Gary Bates Ltd men’s shootout final at Poverty Bay Golf Club are, standing (from left): Marty Reynolds (eliminated on hole No.5), Sam Willock (14), John Osborne (9), Brad Morgan (13), Nigel Jones (8), Nigel McGregor (4), Don McFadyen (referee), Alan Destry (1), Peter Clayton (11), Dave Pirimona (2), Tene Goldsmith (12), Des Malcolm (organiser), Harvey Johanson (15), John Vaughan (10), Roy Skuse (7), Richard Owen (3) and Basil Payne (17). Front: Simon Jeune (16), Pat Butler (6), Brent Colbert (18) and Gray Clapham (overall winner). Picture supplied