English U18 Championship – Day One: Blythe leads as Woad gives chase

Morgan Blythe carried good vibes into the first round of the English Under 18 Championship and leapfrogged home favourite Lottie Woad at the top of leaderboard.

Blythe – from Hexham Golf Club – fired seven birdies in a five under par round of 67 to lead England girls’ squad player Woad by a shot after day one of the ground-breaking junior event.

For the first time ever, 132 of the country’s rising stars – 66 boys and 66 girls – pegged it up together in the quest to be named English Under 18 champion.

Blythe (main image) deserved his lead, but a hungry chasing pack are snapping at his heels.

Woad – a member at Farnham since the age of seven – birdied two of the final three holes to card a 68.

England boys’ squad player Jack Bigham was joined by Essex’s Rory Bennet and Elliot MacGregor from Surrey at three under par.

With 17 players within four shots of the lead – including England girls’ squad player Maggie Whitehead – it promises to be a thrilling weekend.

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Blythe admitted he felt at ease after practice and took that feeling onto the first tee.

“I immediately took a liking to the course,” admitted the 16-year-old.

“Just be sensible off the tees, hit the fairways and you’ll always have chances.

“Apart from two bogeys, I played great and did what I wanted to do.

“I’ve been working on a few things with my coach Andy (Paisley) at Hexham.

“I got a couple of good swing feelings in my head and kept them in my head.”

The drizzle was falling when Lee Carew from Chelsfield Lakes struck the first tee shot of the championship at 7.30 am, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of players and onlookers.

And the members were thrilled to see one of their own once again showing her class.

Woad has won the junior club championship at Farnham five times and was excited to be playing in such an historic event.

“It felt good. I was solid all day and holed a few putts, so I’m happy,” admitted the 17-year-old.

“I was glad I hit the fairway on the first because it’s a tight tee shot and I was fine from there.

“I hadn’t played the length we played off today that much, but I don’t have any excuses!

“I hit two nice pitches on 16 and 17 and had four footers for birdies so that was good after a bogey on 15.

“The club has hosted it well and the members are enthusiastic and the volunteers too, it’ll be a great event.”

Farnham club captain Terry Farmer took on the role of official starter as England Golf made history with the inaugural mixed event for juniors.

It wasn’t long before there were red numbers on the digital scoreboards.

Hertfordshire teenager Bigham is one of most powerful hitters on the circuit, but also has a deft touch around the greens.

That subtlety showed with a chip-in from the fringes at the 17th hole to move to three-under par for his round.

The member at Harpenden Golf Club was satisfied with his start.

“I was to be fair – I played pretty solid,” admitted Bigham. “Nothing amazing but didn’t do anything wrong, I played smart.

“Round here if you start hitting driver you can be in a bit of trouble.”

As the sun broke through the clouds, Bennet from Thorndon Park began to shine.

The Essex county player fired seven birdies in a three-under par round of 69 to match Bigham and MacGregor and sit handily placed going into the second round.

He said: “It’s a good round and carrying on my good form from recently.

“I try to keep it chilled. When it gets too serious, I over think things.”

Despite the calm conditions, no-one was able to match the prediction of Farnham head greenkeeper Rupert Lawrence and find a round of 65 or better.

The intricacies of the course, clever bunkering and testing pin positions made sure of that.

But there was still some fine golf on show – broadcast on England Golf’s YouTube channel by Content Live.

Whitehead turned 15 earlier this month, but looks at ease on the big stage and showed it once again during a battling round of one-under par.

After a great up and down at the 18th for a birdie four, the Close House golfer said: “I’m happy with that, but I left a few out there.

“On the 10th I went driver, fatted my second shot and chipped in! It’s one way to make a birdie.”

Whitehead is a fan of boys and girls going head-to-head for the one trophy.

She added:“There is a difference in tees, but with this course it’s not an advantage as most of the holes you have to be sensible off the tees.

“I like the concept and we’re trying to beat as many boys as we can!”

The golfers will play 18 holes on Saturday before the top 40 and ties progress to the final day when a further 36 holes of stroke play will decide the winner.

Photography/video credit: Leaderboard