Long wins all-English final to become Amateur Champion

Joe Long admitted he was floating on cloud nine after edging out England colleague, friend and rival for the day Joe Harvey to win The R&A’s Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale.

In the match playfully dubbed the ‘Battle of Bristol’, the two Gloucestershire team-mates fought it out over 36 holes for the honour of being crowned Amateur champion.

In the end, Long holed a birdie putt on the 33rd hole to make sure of a deserved 4&3 win and become the 51st English winner of the Amateur.

As well as the prestige, the trophy and the gold medal there are additional prizes in the shape of invites to three major championships in 2021.

Long can now look forward to teeing it up in the Masters at Augusta next April, in the US Open at Torrey Pines in June and the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s in July.

“Wow, when you say all the exemptions. It still hasn’t hit me,” said Long with a smile.

“It’s going to be incredible. This is what I have worked hard for since I started playing golf. I really stuck in there and battled, I am just so chuffed with it really.

“I played Royal St George’s maybe four years ago in the South East Links and I remember it being a tough track. So that is going to be a good battle, it’s just going to be awesome and I am going to enjoy the experience of playing in The Open. It’s just going to be huge.”

Long led by two holes after the morning round and refused to let slip his grip on the 125th Amateur Championship – an event first staged in 1895.

“I was never behind and just stuck at it,” admitted Long, a member at Lansdown Golf Club.

“I have been behind in a lot of matches before and still turned it around but it is always hard when you are up against it. So it was nice to be in control. I thought to myself not to do anything stupid.

“It sounds amazing, 125th Amateur Champion has quite a nice ring to it. I was feeling nervous, we both were.

“My game plan was just to try and stick in the present as much as I could, forget about all the rewards and benefits that come with winning. I hit a few ropey shots in the first round, but I started to tee my driver down and get it back in play.

“I felt like I was pretty solid overall. This afternoon again I was hitting driver well and holed a few nice putts as well which was cool. I just had it in play all the time and felt in control.

Long becomes the first Englishman since Harry Ellis in 2017 to win the championship.

His name now joins some of the game’s modern-day icons as winners of the Amateur – recent victors include Ryder Cup icons and Masters champions Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal.

For the 23-year-old Bristolian, the victory is a major landmark in his fledgling career.

All summer, his name has been at the top end of amateur leaderboards.

In the English Men’s Amateur, Long shot a 66 to equal the course record on the Bracken at Woodhall Spa Golf Club and enter the match play stages as the number one seed.

However, his journey ended with defeat to Sam Done at the 23rd hole of a gruelling quarter-final match.

There was further evidence of good form at the Brabazon Trophy with the England men’s squad player finishing ninth with three of his four rounds under par.

This week, however, at Royal Birkdale Golf Club the cool and unflappable Long was able to seal the deal against Harvey as the 120 finalists were whittled down to the final pair.

Long comfortably made the match play with a three over par round of 74 earning him a tie for 30th place – the same qualifying position as his eventual rival in the final, Harvey.

Then came knockout wins against Fredrik Birkelund of Denmark, England colleague Josh Hill and Frilford Heath’s Olly Huggins.

In the quarters, the talented Barclay Brown was defeated 6&5 by Long who was now on a roll and was able to edge out another England mate, Wiltshire’s Jake Bolton, on the 17th hole of their semi-final.

Today’s final was the first all-English affair since Graeme Storm beat Aran Wainwright at Royal Portrush in 1999.

After 11 holes of the first round, Long was three up, although Harvey (pictured above) had pegged that back to two by the 18th.

In the afternoon, Harvey took the opening hole to reduce the deficit to one, but once again Long simply stepped on the gas to win the third with a par and never look back.

Having moved to 4-up after 29 holes, the gap was to much for Harvey to claw back. The match ended with both men making birdie on the 33rd hole and Long taking the applause for a 4&3 victory.

“Goosebumps really, as soon I holed it, it all hit me,” confessed Long.

“I am just so pleased and can’t believe it really, it’s all so surreal.”

Long – set to leap up from his current position of 102 in the world amateur rankings – admitted it was tough on Harvey to lose out.

He added: “It’s really good and hard at the same time because we both wanted to do well.

“He is a really good mate and when I win it is hard to see him lose. But it is all part of the sport we play and the match was played in great spirit, we enjoyed it out there.”

It was a day of disappointment for Harvey, but the 23-year-old from the Kendleshire Golf Club has plenty of positives to take from his week.

He said: “If you had said at the beginning of the week that I would be in the final I don’t think I would have believed you. I am really chuffed with the way I have played all week.

“I would like to say congratulations to Joe. He played great today.

“It was quite relaxing having one of my good mates out there with me. But we were both out there to win so between shots we would have a little bit of a chat, but coming up to our shots we were in the zone.

“I was so happy for Joe when he holed that putt but as a golfer, I was gutted that my chance to win had come to an end. I am so tired after a long week, so my emotions are a bit all over the place.”