Conor Gough has flown back from America to spearhead BB&O’s push for the English Men’s County title and believes he brings with him a game that’s returning to the high levels he reached pre-pandemic.
Gough will represent his county at Remedy Oak Golf Club in Dorset and help BB&O compete with Northumberland, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire for the handsome silver trophy.
The round robin event will feature some of the best male amateurs in the country and is sure to be keenly contested as the four teams battle to win the title won last time out by Kent.
For Gough, who just turned 19 earlier this month, it’s a welcome return to competitive action at a time when he feels his game is once again approaching the standard which allowed him to become English Men’s Amateur champion in 2019 and earn a place in that year’s Walker Cup side.
In the qualifying series for the national finals at Eaton Golf Club, Gough – a student at college in Charlotte, North Carolina – gave notice of his skills by firing a course record round of 61 that might well have been a magical 59.
Having birdied the first six holes of his back nine, Gough then had three consecutive 12-foot putts for birdie which slipped just wide.
But it means he comes into the finals full of confidence and ready to make up for lost time.
Gough said: “I don’t have any competitive golf in America until January so I was keen to come back and play in these finals especially after helping the county qualify..
“In that round in the qualifiers the putts dropped it was the first time in a while that everything in my game matched up.
“I was nine under with three holes to play, I left one in the jaws and just missed the other two so a 59 was doable.
“It had been a long time since I felt that way.
“I didn’t pick up a golf club for five months during Covid. It disrupted me big time.
“When I came back I’d gained four miles an hour club head speed and changed clubs and it took me a while to get back into it and that’s when I decided to go to America.
“It’s been a slow progress and now I feel as if I’m back to the levels and the confidence I had back in 2018 and 2019.
“There’s work to be done and I’m excited about next year and getting competitive golf again.
BB&O’s last win in this event came in 1983, but with Gough teaming up with older brother John, the current English Men’s Amateur champion, as well as England boys international Ben Loveard and men’s squad member Olly Huggins, expectations are high.
“I love match play and it’s good fun. We’ve got a good team and I’m excited. It would be nice to win it again after such a long time,” added Gough.
However, there is fierce competition for the silverware.
Gloucestershire has brought a strong squad with them to the finals as they look to win the county title for the first time since 1979.
England men’s squad members Haider Hussein (pictured below) and Joe Harvey will be key men for the south west champions over the next three days.
Harvey said: “I’m really looking forward to this event and we have a strong team who hopefully can go all the way.
“We qualified in 2018 and lost by the narrowest of margins to Yorkshire at Aldeburgh so we have a chance to try and make up for that.”
Northumberland will hope to add the men’s crown to that won by their boys’ squad earlier in the season.
English Mid Amateur champion Phil Ridden captained the boys to their victory at Coxmoor Golf Club and will play this week alongside fellow City of Newcastle member Andrew Minnikin.
Minnikin (pictured below) is in fine form after being crowned Men’s County Champion of Champions earlier this month at Woodhall Spa.
He said: “This is my third time playing in the event. We came close in 2019 – missing out with the final putt of the finals.
“We have five of the squad from 2019 still in the team and I’m sure that experience will help this week.
”It’s been a good year for Northumberland golf and we hope it continues.”
Warwickshire last claimed the title in 1990 and have a nice mixture of youth an experience in their ranks.
England boys’ squad player Sam Easterbrook and Seb Cave (pictured below) are playing in their first finals, but Warren Bladon – the former R&A Amateur champion – was a member of the Warwickshire side which won this trophy back in 1990.
Cave added: “”It’s great playing in these team events and already just being around the more experienced members of the squad I’ve learned so much.
“Warren’s great at passing on advice and actually played the last time the county won this so hopefully he can be part of a winning side again.”
The format for the event is round robin with each match consisting of three morning foursomes followed by six afternoon singles.
Day 1 – Friday
Match 1: BB&O v Gloucestershire
Match 2: Warwickshire v Northumberland
Day 2 – Saturday
Match 1: Match 1 Winners v Match 2 Losers
Match 2: Match 2 Winners v Match 1 Losers
Day 3 – Sunday
Complete Round Robin