Golf 2019 highlights: Rhys Enoch wins first Challenge Tour title

Rhys Enoch
Rhys Enoch

Seventy-one holes into the Slovak Challenge, and Rhys Enoch was exactly where he wanted to be.

Having negotiated the 17th hole in round four thanks to "one of the best eight irons I'll ever hit", the part-Cornish, mainly-Welshman stood on the brink of his first Challenge Tour victory. All that remained was to take care of the 18th, a relatively short par-four. He'd made par there the first three days, and it was a long-iron off the tee.

Then came the horn. Electrical activity in the area meant for an unspecified delay, forcing him to sit, wait, and contemplate. It would have been easy for his mind to wander far from here, this tournament best known for its par-six hole, and to all that had brought him to this point.

Enoch's career path has not been as straightforward as had been hoped when, alongside his brother, Ben, he seemed destined for a successful and lucrative career as a professional. As juniors, the two would play together every day, and as they set off along the bridge between childhood and adulthood, Ben was lined up to join Rhys in Tennessee, to complete their golfing education at college.

Then, in April 2009, Ben died in a car crash. He was on his way to play in the Lytham Trophy at the time, with his 19th birthday only days away.

A year later, in Wales, the Molinari brothers made history in the Ryder Cup. Surely, the Enoch brothers would have been watching on, inspired and ambitious, marking the date they might be able to do the same. Instead, Rhys was left alone, to overcome a tragedy enough to alter the course of anyone's life, particularly one so tied to another.

Slowly, the senior brother set about doing what his sparring partner, whose nickname 'Been' is tattooed on his chest, would've wanted him to do: he climbed the ladder, one painstaking rung at a time. Zambia, Portugal, India, Finland; small purses, long flights, lofty ambitions. This is the golfing journey you don't often hear about, and the one which most often ends in a career rethink.

Not for Enoch.

First, in 2018, he was rewarded with victory in Cape Town on the Sunshine Tour, and then came a timely opportunity to win closer to home. It was one he knew, thanks to June's US Open and a second chance to play with Patrick Reed, that he was capable of taking. Over there, in California, Enoch had made the cut as an unheralded qualifier, showing the world what he could do with a second-round 66. It was a score which only one player, the subsequent champion, was able to beat.

"I was in a great mindset," he told Sporting Life, reflecting on how he passed the time in Slovakia less than a month on from his US Open performance. "Obviously off the back of Pebble Beach, and many other last group experiences, I had a sense of calm and patience.

"(US Open) was invaluable for me, solidifying my belief that I can not only play at that level, but that I belong there. That’s half the battle. Slovakia three weeks later was such a patient week. I just had a sense of calm over me on the weekend."

That sense of calm was never more evident than in the clubhouse, as Enoch waited, before returning to the tee. Once there, he drew on those recent, tangible feelings, of winning on the Sunshine Tour, of competing in the Open Championship, of performing alongside the likes of Reed and Martin Kaymer.

Enoch got his tee-shot away, a three-iron into the fairway, and safely two putted to win by a single shot. Only then did he allow his mind to wander a decade into the past. And yet always he was able to balance the pain of what has happened with the sort of perspective only a new parent, or soon-to-be parent, can find.

"My son (to be at the time) and my now wife were at the forefront of my mind," he said. "Fatherhood, be it actual or pending, is the most incredible thing and settles you down and takes your mind off golf and the perceived importance of it. Let’s face it, Carter is now the most important thing in my life along with my wife, Lynn, so that mindset brings more relaxation into golf."

The Challenge Tour proudly makes much of its illustrious roll of honour: Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood, and dozens more who have used this springboard to forge careers at the very top of the sport.

Enoch, now in his thirties, is still trying to get there. It's little wonder his ascent has been less smooth, more complicated. And yet, in Slovakia, he showed a strength of character and sense of purpose which, in this sport of moving parts and wandering minds, can make the difference. He's won twice now, both times by a shot. Next is to keep the streak alive, and win again in 2020.

His is a story of overcoming tragedy. The first decade of this century ended in one few of us ever have to live through. The second ends with a wife, a son, and an understanding that while it is golf that colours his memories of his brother, it's not the golf itself that really matters.

Enoch begins the next decade with the foundations in place to take the final step, and reach the European Tour. He does it with Ben Enoch's favourite quote, from a book by Marianne Williamson, written on his side.

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.'

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