'We've exceeded our wildest dreams' - Lupton's joy at British Masters opening day
When Jonathan Lupton first arrived at Close House, he used to teach out of the old cricket pavilion.
That we’d ever see Lee Westwood teeing off in front of crowds 15 deep in a European Tour event must have seemed remarkable to anyone who witnessed the embryonic days of the Newcastle club.
If owner Graham Wylie had a vision of what Close House could be, though, so did Lupton and he’s been an integral part of the journey ever since first arriving as head professional in 2009.
He might not beam at the spectators from the billboards, but the success of this event – and if the first day was anything to go by it is huge – is as much about him as the former world number one.
Lupton was pitched into the managing director’s job some 20 or so months ago with the task of steering the British Masters to fruition.
He’s part of the furniture here, but it was a job that could have caused some to baulk. Get it wrong and people would be unsympathetic to say the least.
Now try and compete on top of that. Lupton thought hard before deciding whether to accept an invitation to play.
He’s a serious golfer – a Brabazon Trophy winner as an amateur, once a fixture of England and Yorkshire squads, and twice a winner of the PGA Assistants’ title.
But managing directors have different priorities, and they don’t always involve getting out for a few holes.
He threw himself into the task, practising and preparing with zeal, only to suffer a huge setback right on the tournament’s eve.
“I knew on Monday I was struggling a bit,” he said. “I think it’s a side strain. It was a bit sore practising and I thought ‘I’ll take it easy through the week’.
“But I was warming up this morning and it was clear it was hurting. The longer the club, the more I struggled.”
Not that you would have known that from the few first holes. Starting on the 10th, he began in spectacular fashion – with a birdie on the opening par 3 and then picking up another shot on the par 5 13th.
Two under after four, would he make a run at his own tournament? The warning signs, though, were already there.
Lupton was struggling to hit fairways and finding the short stuff is absolutely essential to success on this course.
At times this felt like two tournaments. Westwood’s gallery on the first tee was insane – it resembled a major.
But anyone who believes the European Tour to be all glamour and show business should follow some of the lesser lights.
There was no walking scorer. The only way you could follow who was doing what was to tot it up yourself.
The ever present crossing marshalls everywhere Rory, Poulter and McDowell stepped were absent.
Had I been equipped with a 7-iron, I might have sneaked a few shots.
You heard distant cheers, but that’s exactly what they were – far away. Shot after shot was played with the background of the occasional caddie chat and relative silence.
The massive crowd – more than 18,000 – had their attention largely elsewhere.
This was a shame because anyone who watched Lupton’s back nine would have witnessed an exercise in grit.
“Sore” was about all he needed to say when asked about it after the round but it looked, to me, like he was in significant discomfort.
He almost bent double hitting out of the bunker on the third but a fantastic chip on the 6th led to a birdie and the putt he made on the eighth to save par was really classy.
A two-over 72 came through ‘gritted teeth’. But it was much better than the bare scoreline suggested.
“I loved every minute of it but was just a little bit frustrated,” he said. “I just wish I could have stood there and given it a clout.”
If Lupton was left with dreams of what might have been on the course, then the scenes off it exceeded all of his expectations.
He explained: “About 8am and I went past the car park and thought ‘this looks good’. I could see it was going to be busy. And when I came in at 10.30am or 11am it was really deep. Amazing.”
Lupton didn’t see Westwood’s pied-piper routine at the opening hole. But then he didn’t need to.
“I could hear them. I was on the range and I knew. It’s been amazing to be part of it and everyone at Close House has done so much.”
“For everything we hoped for – and at times we had little bits of worry that we might not get the field that we wanted – we have exceeded our wildest dreams with the field,” he added.
“The addition of McIlroy and Poulter at the end was just the icing on the cake – on a very nice cake already.
“I think the build looks stunning. I think the European Tour have done an amazing job and it seems to work really well.
“Hopefully, the scoring brings more people through the gates tomorrow. It’s incredible.”