Hampshire put the drama into the first day of the English Men’s County Finals when Tom Robson snatched a 5-4 win over Somerset with the last putt of the day.
In the day’s other match, Staffordshire marked their return to County Finals after a long absence with a convincing 6-3 win over Northumberland.
The championship is being played at Trevose Golf Club, Cornwall, and the standard of play from all four teams matched the spectacular setting. Eagles and birdies abounded against the backdrop of a (mostly) bright blue sky and huge white breakers – and despite the challenge of the ever-strengthening wind.
Hampshire’s match was a real thriller. They trailed Somerset 2-1 after the foursomes, but Billy McKenzie quickly levelled the scores in the singles in a superb match against French open champion Josh Hilleard.
McKenzie scorched round 16 holes in six-under par and won by 3/2 over an opponent who was, himself, three-under. From then on McKenzie was cheerleader-in-chief for the Hampshire side as they battled their way to victory.
Team captain Martin Young fought back from two-down after 13 to grab a half with Tom Sloman. Then Somerset’s Jamie Clare put his team back in the lead when he birdied 14 to win 5/4. But Hampshire’s Ryan Harmer levelled matters again with his 3/2 win and Matt Wilcox finally put the team in front with his 2/1 win.
The final game pitted Hampshire’s Tom Robson against England boy international Thomas Plumb and it was a real ding-dong. Plumb eagled 13 to get two ahead; Robson birdied the next two to get back to all square; Plumb birdied the short 16th to go ahead. After halving 17 in par, Robson rammed home his 20-footer for an 18th-hole birdie, a half in his match and a 5-4 win for his cheering team.
“I knew exactly what was needed all the way round the back nine – and it was good, I enjoyed it,” said Robson, who had to hit his approach to the green from a divot mark. “It probably helped because I committed to it!”
In the other match Staffordshire got off to a quick start and then built steadily on it for their win.
They led 2.5-0.5 after the very low-scoring foursomes. For example England international Gian-Marco Petrozzi and his partner, Lewis Pearce, squeezed a half out of their match after an eagle two on 15. Jake Whalley (pictured) and Tom Hewitt finished eagle, birdie; while Jack Gaunt, another international, and Ryan Brooks played the first 10 holes in six under on the way to their point.
In the singles Gaunt was first to post his point, winning 3/2 after hitting top form on the back nine, when he birdied four of the seven holes played. Petrozzi soon followed him. He had been ahead throughout his game but went to the 18th to secure his point after Northumberland champion Phil Ridden fought back from three down after 13.
The team’s winning point came from anchorman Jake Whalley, who lost the first hole, but immediately hit back, got into the lead and stayed there, with the help of an eagle three on the ninth and a couple of birdies on the back nine, signing off 3/2. Staffordshire’s scoreline was completed by Ryan Brooks who added a half after Northumberland’s Craig Penny squared their game with a 17th hole birdie.
Team captain Martin Crook commented: “Staffordshire haven’t won this since 1975 and we haven’t been at County Finals for a long time, so it’s superb to be back and at a brilliant venue. I think we’ve got a great team and to get the first win is brilliant.”
Tomorrow’s matches are: Hampshire v Northumberland; Staffordshire v Somerset.