Gough and running – Conor’s timing right for title defence

Conor Gough admits he’s plotted a deliberately steady course after lockdown to ensure he’s refreshed and raring to go in the defence of his English Men’s Amateur Championship.

The 17-year-old is aiming to become only the eighth man over the course of the tournament’s illustrious 95-year history to win back-to-back titles.

The last golfer to pull off the feat was Paul Casey who followed up a win at St Mellion in 1999 with victory the next year at Royal Lytham St Anne’s. Others include former secretary of The R&A, Sir Michael Bonallack and former European Tour player Mark Foster.

Despite heading into his first competition since lockdown ended, Gough is feeling in a positive frame of mind as his trophy ambitions go on the line.

The England boys’ international and Walker Cup player has chosen to steer clear of events in the build-up to this week’s tournament at Woodhall Spa Golf Club.

Gough has elected to practise rather than try to find form in the heat of battle and risk not discovering it at all.

For him it’s been a smart move and he’s eagerly anticipating a big week on both the Hotchkin and Bracken courses – tracks he knows well from time spent on England training days.

“My game is feeling good,” admitted Gough who arrived at the pristine Lincolnshire venue yesterday.

“I’ve spent the last few days just putting the finishing touches to some things, tweaking my game rather than changing it.

“This is my first competition of the year, but I’ve played Woodhall Spa many times and I feel quite confident about my game going into the week.

“I have been asked to play in some pro events this summer before this, but my game wasn’t quite at the level I wanted it to be at going into a proper tournament.

“I didn’t want to go into anything fighting my swing.

“I’ve taken the time to practise and become comfortable again so that when I come out to play, I’m feeling better and in full motion.

“The history shows that it’s not impossible to defend and that’s my aim. It’s actually a little bit surprising to see how many people have won it two years in a row because it’s such a tough event.

“It can be a long week with the stroke play and then the match play, but you have to learn to pace yourself and not get worn out.”

Gough confirmed his potential last year at Hankley Common Golf Club when he defeated England colleague Callum Farr in the 36-hole final.

It helped book his place in the Walker Cup team for the match against the USA at Royal Liverpool and also allowed him to join the likes of Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willett and Sir Nick Faldo in the history books as a winner of the English Men’s Amateur Championship.

Gough would love to enjoy the same feeling of control this year that he enjoyed throughout the 2019 championship.

“My golf was good for the whole week last year,” he confirmed.

“I loved the golf course and just feel confident all week. I guess I peaked at the right time.

“I go into the stroke play side of it trying to win that – but I know it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.

“If you finish first or 64th it’s not the end of the world as the trophy is decided after the match play.

“Keeping concentrated, learning not to beat yourself up and making sure you have a strong mindset is key to a very testing week.”

This year’s event will see 222 men contest the championship over six days starting tomorrow.

The first two days will involve 18 holes of stroke play each day using both the Bracken and Hotchkin courses.

The leading 64 players then go forward to four days of knockout match play which will conclude with a 36-hole final on Sunday.