Hampshire’s Billy McKenzie won an all-England final against Yorkshire’s Alex Fitzpatrick to become the 2018 Spanish international amateur champion at La Manga.
The 23-year-old from Rowlands Castle won the biggest title of his career so far on the 34th hole of the final, defeating his opponent 3/2. “It’s unbelievable,” he said afterwards. “To win one of these big match play events is a dream come true.”
McKenzie is the seventh English winner in the last 15 years and follows in the footsteps of such players as Danny Willett, who went on to win The Masters.
But his mentor in this event was another Hampshire golfer, Scott Gregory, who was the 2016 Amateur Champion and a losing finalist in the Spanish amateur of the same year.
“I’m very close with Scott, we have the same coach, and we have been pushing each other on. I’ve seen his successes and watched him grow as a player and go on to great things. He’s been giving me advice this week and telling me to bring it home, which he couldn’t!”
McKenzie just scraped into the match play stages in the 32nd and final spot after an anxious wait at the end of the 36-hole qualifying. But from then on his trajectory was rapidly upward – he defeated top qualifier and England international Jake Burnage (Saunton, Devon) by one hole in the first round and gained steadily in confidence.
“I wanted a decent result to start the season and felt that getting to the last 16 would be acceptable. After that I just freed up and played it one game at a time and it became, if not easier, but less pressured.”
McKenzie’s closest shave was in the quarter finals where he had to go to the 20th, but he won his semi-final 5/4 and soon took charge in the final, leading by three holes after the first 18.
He pushed further ahead after lunch, getting to six up after 22 holes. But then Fitzpatrick (Hallamshire) launched a fightback and after 32 holes only trailed by two. However McKenzie won the 33rd to return to three up and after the players halved the 34th the title was his.
McKenzie is continuing a strong tradition of winning Hampshire golfers, starting with Major champion Justin Rose, who tweeted his good wishes. Meanwhile Gregory, who is now a tournament professional, and Harry Ellis (Meon Valley) have kept the Amateur Championship in county hands for the last two years.
“We are one big team, we all support each other and I couldn’t hope for a better band of lads to push for me this week, as I have pushed for them in other tournaments,” said McKenzie, who helped Hampshire win the 2017 English Men’s County Championship.
The Spanish Amateur was overall a great showcase for English golf. Not only was it an all-England final but, thanks to Robin Williams (Peterborough Milton, Northamptonshire) three English players reached the semis.
In total eight English players were in the matchplay, filling one-quarter of the available spots. Burnage and Todd Clements (Braintree, Essex) went out in the first round, while Joe Long (Lansdown, Gloucestershire), Tom Sloman (Taunton & PIckeridge, Somerset) and Gian-Marco Petrozzi (Trentham, Staffordshire) reached the last 16.
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Image courtesy Adolfo Luna, Spanish Golf Federation.