Happy Flanagan: Stroke of luck helps Nick end US title drought

ONCE Nick Flanagan was back in a winning position, his coach Graeme Stockley never doubted the Belmont professional had the mental toughness to finish the job.

His confidence was justified when Flanagan broke a five-year title drought to win the US Nationwide Tour’s Charity Pro-Am tournament in South Carolina on Sunday.

In what was a miraculous finale of luck and nerve, Flanagan trailed Victorian Cameron Percy by two shots going in to the final hole.

He appeared to have blown any chance when he overcooked his second shot to the par-four 18th.

But the ball hit a TV cameraman and rolled back onto the green leaving a 3 metre putt for birdie.

Flanagan’s putt never looked like missing, while Percy bogeyed and they finished in a play-off at 15-under-par 271.

After three trips back down the Thornblade Club’s 18th, Flanagan triumphed when he capitalised on Percy’s tee shot into the trees.

Flanagan blasted a superb shot out of the green-side bunker to set up an easy putt for par and the championship.

‘‘He’s very good at winning,’’ Stockley said yesterday.

‘‘That’s the good thing about Nick. Once he puts himself in the hunt, he pretty much gets the job done most of the time.’’

It was Flanagan’s second victory at the Thornblade Club and his fourth on the second tier of US golf.

The win was a $110,000 pay day for Flanagan and propelled him to 11th on the US Nationwide money list.

The top 25 at the season’s end automatically qualify for the US PGA Tour.

‘‘Sometimes it’s better to be lucky rather than good, obviously. You’ve got to take every break you can get out here,’’ Flanagan told AAP.

‘‘It’s pretty amazing. I didn’t feel like I was playing that well coming into the week.

‘‘I decided to come out and try to just get the ball in the hole, which I haven’t done for a long time.

‘‘I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get all the way back to where I was, but to win this week feels like I’m a heck of a lot closer.’’

Flanagan later tweeted: ‘‘Feel like Happy Gilmore driving home. Thank you everyone for the support. Effing legends! Yewwwwww.’’

In the Adam Sandler film Happy Gilmore, the title character is forced to bounce his championship-winning putt off a TV tower that has broken and fallen across the green.

Flanagan rose to prominence when he won the 2003 US Amateur Championship – the tournament Tiger Woods won three times.

He turned professional in 2004 and won three Nationwide events in 2007 to qualify for the US PGA Tour in 2008 but finished 169th on the order of merit and did not retain his tour card.

Stockley said Flanagan’s qualification earlier this month for his first US PGA event in four years at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte provided the platform.

‘‘I think that was a huge boost,’’ he said. ‘‘To get into a PGA Tour event and be playing that got everything rolling.

‘‘It’s been a struggle this year to get starts as he doesn’t have much status, so he’s just been trying to find places to play.’’

Flanagan spent the summer back at his home course of Belmont rebuilding his swing with Stockley after a disappointing 2011, before he returned to his US base in Jacksonville, Florida.

‘‘His swing was way out of kilter and we worked really hard on that before he went back,’’ Stockley said.

‘‘The changes we made felt to him to be very severe and they were.

‘‘It was a fairly big movement change to where he has been getting.

‘‘There’s still a lot of work to be done, to be honest.’’

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