Hampshire are the English Men’s County Champions – recapturing the title after 21 years with top quality team golf at Trevose, Cornwall.
The last time they won was in 1996 when Justin Rose was in their team. It’s been a long road back to the top in county golf – especially for playing captain Martin Young who has just completed his eighth County Finals; with the last three in consecutive years.
News of the victory filtered back to Young as Tom Robson, Ryan Harmer and Billy McKenzie delivered the crucial 2.5 points in the singles to take the team over the line. Matt Wilcox and Colin Roope made it even better for Hampshire when they won their games to complete a 6.5-2.5 win over Staffordshire – and give the team a complete set of three wins in the championship.
Young confessed to tears as he played the 17th and he was uncharacteristically speechless afterwards, although he did say: “This is so weird. I am so unbelievably happy.”
His team, however, had a lot more to say about the win, fashioned in grim conditions of wind and rain, which gave them their much-prized victory.
They went into the final day knowing a half would give them the title, but they wanted to win their third match outright. They grabbed the advantage in the foursomes with one big win from Young and partner Wilcox, who were three-under par when they finished 7/6; and one snatched point from Billy McKenzie and Tom Robson. McKenzie knocked their second on the 18th to 18in from the cup to set up a birdie and a 1up win.
In the singles, Robson delivered the team’s first point on the 14th green and commented: “It’s my fourth County Finals in five years and this means everything.”
Ryan Harmer quickly followed him with a grandstand finish against England international Gian-Marco Petrozzi on the 18th. Harmer had been two up with four to play, was pulled back to all square by Staffordshire birdies on 15 and 17 – but holed a 20-footer on the last for birdie and a 1up win.
“This is incredible, something we have all wanted for so long,” he said. We have come so close in previous years but it’s always been a bit of a battle on the final day. But today is our day.”
McKenzie was close behind battling Jack Gaunt, another England international, in a tight match which was peppered with birdies. Gaunt took the game down 18 when he birdied the 17th to get back to all square and the players went on to share the point providing Hampshire’s winning half to secure the title.
“I knew everyone was well up so it made it easier coming down the stretch,” said McKenzie. “But getting the winning half point is fantastic, especially against Jack who is a great player.
“I’ve had a good week, but it’s just great that I can play my part for the team,” he added.
Wilcox was Hampshire’s biggest points scorer with five wins from six starts, while McKenzie and Robson both had 4.5 points from six games.
In the other match Somerset were determined to give themselves every chance of an outside win. They knew that if Hampshire were beaten the result would be decided on countback so they set out to amass as many points as possible and they beat Northumberland 7-2.
They were 2-1 up in the foursomes and dropped just one singles point, to Northumberland’s Matthew McClean. In the end it wasn’t enough but team captain Justin Lane said: “We knew we had to come out hard today and hope Staffordshire would do us a favour. But Hampshire just outplayed them and many congratulations to Martin and his team. I’m very proud of my players, everyone performed brilliantly.”
Captions: Top, the winning Hampshire team. Back row: Matt Wilcox, Colin Roope, Mark Burgess and Tom Robson. Front row: Billy McKenzie, Martin Young and Ryan Harmer.
Final placings: 1 Hampshire, 2 Somerset, 3 Staffordshire, 4 Northumberland.
Images copyright Leaderboard Photography