By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
THE play-off victory Sunday afternoon in the Jacob's Creek Open Championship meant more to former Coffs Harbour golfer Paul Sheehan than he let on in front of the thousands of people watching on television.
"It's a big thrill to win in Australia and this is the first big tournament that I've won at home," he said yesterday.
"I've won some smaller ones before in Australia like the WA Open and obviously the tournaments in Japan but the goal has always been to win a big tournament at home."
The biggest bonus for Sheehan was that the people who are such a big part of his career were able to share in the victory.
"It was nice to win in front of family and friends," he explained.
"They normally only get to read about the success that I'm having overseas and I've had a lot of people get in touch with me since the win saying 'It's great to see you win'."
When Sheehan completed his final round on Sunday he was the clubhouse leader but he had to endure an anxious wait as former world number one amateur Michael Sim had a chance to claim victory with a final hole birdie.
Sim had a putt for the title but left it short, forcing a play-off.
Sheehan scrambled a par on the first play-off hole to stay in contention for victory before a wayward tee shot by Sim on the second hole opened the door for Sheehan to claim the $180,000 winner's cheque.
"Play-offs are always cut throat," the victor said.
"I made a great putt to stay in it on the first hole and I was able to get the win on the second, I was just rapt to win in the end."
As the weekend's tournament was a co-sanctioned event between the Australasian and US Nationwide tours, Sheehan's victory now means that he's a fully-exempt member of the Nationwide Tour.
It also places him in great position to earn a PGA Tour card for 2007.
Since the Jacob's Creek Open joined the Nationwide Tour in 2002, the winner has never failed to earn a tour card on the lucrative US PGA tour.
Sheehan isn't so sure that chasing a spot on the leading tour in the world is something that he really wants though.
"I'll play this week and then sit down with my manager and have a chat with my wife Jackie about what we're going to do," the 29-year-old said.
"It's a good problem to have, I might play a few tournaments in the States but Japan is such a great option, it's a good lifestyle and allows me to spend a bit of time at home."
This week sees Sheehan try to continue his rich vein of form in New Zealand for another co-sanctioned event, the New Zealand PGA in Christchurch.
"The Japan tour starts about six weeks after that so that gives me a little window where I might go and play in the States," he said.