After 19 years Chapman is a sudden winner

Tim Glover shares in the party for a champion at the 472nd attempt
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The Independent Online

In North America last week Hal Sutton beat off Tiger Woods to win the US Players' Championship and with it the richest prize in the game, £675,000. In South America Roger Chapman took the Rio de Janeiro Open and £68,952.56. No comparison. Sorry Hal, but the Chapman story wins hands down.

Sutton may have waited 17 years for his second victory in the Players' Championship but Chapman has spent 19 years in pursuit of his holy grail. "It wasn't a monkey on my back," the Englishman said, "it was a bloody great gorilla."

Since turning professional in 1981 Chapman has played in 472 tournaments, and he had never won on the European Tour. His solitary success came in the Zimbabwe Open - at the Chapman Golf Club - in 1988.

He finally caught the bouquet in Rio (an inaugural event on the European Tour) last Sunday when he beat Padraig Harrington in a sudden-death play-off. Chapman, a runner-up on 12 occasions, had shot 65 in the last round to make up a five- stroke deficit to tie with the Irish Ryder Cup player.

At the first play-off hole - the 18th - Chapman hit his tee shot, a three-wood, into water. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "What had I done? Once again I thought it had all gone." After a penalty drop, he hit a four-iron into a greenside bunker. Harrington, safely on in two, three- putted and Chapman got up and down in two to halve the hole with a five. They returned to the 18th, and this time Harrington drove into the water. "I looked at my caddie, he looked at me and he could see in my face that this time I was going to do it," Chapman said.

After a good drive, Chapman hit a five-iron to within 15 feet of the flag. Harrington was also on the green, but with his third shot. "I thought his putt was in," Chapman said. "I said to myself, 'Padraig, please don't do this to me'. It just slid by and I had two putts for it. Padraig was gutted, but said he couldn't have lost to a nicer bloke. I felt sorry for him but it was my turn. It was a brilliant, brilliant feeling, total euphoria. It was everything I'd dreamt about and more, utter relief. I kept telling myself this is what I'd been working for all my life."

After ringing his wife Cathy at home in Windlesham, it was carnival time. Chapman bought dinner for Mark Mouland, Roger Winchester and Marc Farry before returning to the bar across the road from the Copacabana Beach. The assembled players and caddies broke into a chorus of "There's only one Roger Chapman". They didn't do that for Hal in Florida. "Everybody stood up and cheered," Chapman said. "I couldn't believe it. It was very emotional. It almost brought tears to my eyes."

But back in Surrey, Cathy has been bombarded with flowers, e-mails, faxes, letters and phone calls. "Mrs Montgomerie may know what it's like but I'm just not used to this," she said. "Roger's walking on air. He rang me after his round and I thought a top-five finish would be nice. Then he rang to say he was in a play-off and then he rang from a mobile by the 18th green to say he had won. It's been worth the wait."

If he had been receiving an Oscar, Chapman would have thanked his coach, George Will, who has been teaching him for 27 years, his manager, Jamie Salmon, and Cathy. Last season, for the first time in his career, Chapman failed to get his card. "I was going to pack it in," he said, "and do something else. I'd had enough."

Salmon, the former England and New Zealand rugby union centre, and Cathy both gave him a pep talk. Salmon: "I told him he was too nice to win and I think he has become a lot harder. Going to the qualifying school was the turning point. We knew it was his last chance." Cathy: "Going to the school brought home to him what he had to lose. I told him he wasn't a quitter."

There was something else. "The death of Payne Stewart last winter made me realise I was spoiled really," Chapman said. "He wanted to play but couldn't any more; I could play but didn't want to. It made me realise I had to get on with it. I needed a kick up the backside."

Chapman, a member of the Tour's tournament committee, could have taken the easy option and relied on sponsors'invites. Instead he went to the qualifying school, finished 12th and regained his card, not to mention self-respect. And Salmon's company, Sporting Contacts, got him a sponsor, Fairclough Homes. "Roger had already been turned down for the Spanish Open," Salmon said. "Now we can plan his schedule for the next two years. Life begins at 40."

Chapman, who will be 41 in May, has moved to 254th in the world rankings. Sutton, who is 41, has gone up to fifth. There is an oblique symmetry to their triumphs. Before turning professional in 1981 they played in the Walker Cup match between the United States and Great Britain and Ireland at Cypress Point. Chapman beat Sutton twice in one day.