£3,000 jackpot for English Open wildcard Benzey

IT WAS the biggest payday of his short career.

Connor Benzey pocketed £3,000 for winning his first-round match in the English Open.

The 18-year-old from Eastleigh was awarded a wildcard by the English Partnership for Snooker and Billiards for finishing runner-up on the national under-21 circuit.

And he rose to the occasion by edging world number 90 Fraser Patrick 4-3 from 3-2 down at the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes.

That earned him the massive cheque and a plum draw against one of snooker’s elder statesmen.

Although John Higgins ran out a 4-0 winner in the second round, Benzey’s safety play elicited more than one admiring tap on the table from the four-time world champion.

It gave the teenager another tantalising taste of life on the professional circuit.

Benzey said: “It felt great to beat a good pro and I proved to myself I can compete at that level.

“Playing John Higgins, I just enjoyed the experience and I learnt a lot from the game.

“I know I didn’t play like I can, which was a bit disappointing, but there were still a lot of positives I can take from the game.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that Higgins turned professional in 1992 – when Benzey’s dad, Mark, was 17.

Benzey, who puts in the hard yards on Star tables at Stephen Lee’s exclusive practice facility in Melksham, thanked his sponsors – Devlin Cues, Mick Sawkins, Hillcrest Structural and GH Property Management – for their continued support.

Meanwhile, there were first-round exits for three other players who progressed through the Cuestars junior ranks. Billy Castle lost 4-0 to Ricky Walden, Jamie Wilson was beaten 4-0 by Matthew Selt and Mark Lloyd, another wildcard, went down 4-0 to Ryan Day.

Picture by Andy Chubb