Kent made a storming start to the Men’s County Finals with a helping hand from ex-Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjorn.
Aiming to win the championship for only the second time in their history, Kent claimed a 4.5 – 2.5 win over Nottinghamshire in the opening singles match and head into a decisive second day at Huddersfield GC in fine fettle.
Northumberland also started their campaign with an excellent 4-3 win over Somerset – and the stage is set for a dramatic final day of action in West Yorkshire.
Kent captain Danny Curtis was thrilled at how a young side – with an average age of 24 – coped as the county made a return to the finals for the first time in 31 years.
However, it was an eve of event message from Danish ace Bjorn that set the tone.
Kent coach Benn Barham – a former European Tour pro – enlisted the help of the man who led Europe to a thrilling win against USA at Le Golf National in Versailles a year ago.
Bjorn’s WhatsApp video message to the team went down a treat and his words of wisdom might just have set the tone for the competition.
“It’s all about fine margins when you get to these events and I asked Thomas if he would give the lads a few words of encouragement,” admitted Barham, twice a winner on the Challenge Tour.
“Who knows what the impact can be, but if it inspires someone to win half a point or a point it might make all the difference,” he added.
“Five years ago we started planning for events like this. We had to change the team mentality and while we developed individuals we had to make playing for the county a big thing. I wanted the players to adopt a professional outlook even though they are amateurs.”
With the competition curtailed to two days from three because of the impending bad weather and foursomes abandoned in favour of three matches consisting entirely of seven singles games, neither the blustery conditions nor the revised format knocked Kent out of their stride.
Although Jordan Boulton won for Nottinghamshire with a last hole victory against Liam Burns, Kent fought back strongly.
Joshua Bristow was a 3&2 victor against Cole Betteridge and Jenson Hull and Tom Sherreard also claimed full points with 2&1 and 4&3 successes against Darren Kirton and Ross Overton respectively.
At one stage it appeared as if Kent could win six of the seven singles, but Nottinghamshire halved three key games in the middle section of the draw.
Martin Foulkes, Adam Dorricott and Mark Porter earned half points for Nottinghamshire against Ben Quinney, Jacob Kelso and Mason Essam.
Nottinghamshire team captain Trevor Ryan admitted he was impressed by how his side fought back even though they lost out.
He added: “It was a bit one-sided to begin with, but the spirit remained good. For example, Martin was three down but earned a half and it could have been a full point had his chip at 18 gone in rather than hit the pin.
“I think Kent simply out-putted us.”
In the other match, Somerset’s hope of winning their first ever county title was dented with a narrow 4-3 loss to Northumberland.
Philip White took the scalp of England international Matty Lamb in the opening match, but Mark Wharton, Sean Heads, Alex Dixon and Gary Donnison all secured wins for Northumberland.
Thomas Burley and Craig Adams’ wins in the final two games reduced the deficit, but the two points went Northumberland’s way as they bid to repeat the success they enjoyed in this event when winning it four years out of five from 1960.
“I’m sad to say that I’m old enough to have played with most of the guys from that era!” said Northumberland captain David Gilroy.
“This was a hard-fought win in difficult conditions.”
Somerset captain James Ward’s team may have been defeated, but they weren’t too downbeat.
He confirmed: “We put the first point on the board and then it didn’t go for us in the middle order. I was caddying for Tom Plumb who lost his match on 18, but that could have gone either way.
“Today was a slight disappointment but we have two games left and all to play for.”
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Photograph credit: Leaderboard