England’s Laird Shepherd produced one of the greatest ever comebacks to win The 126th Amateur Championship amid emotional scenes at Nairn.
In an all-English, 36-hole final over the renowned Moray links, 23-year-old Shepherd looked down and out in his game with Monty Scowsill.
After 17 holes of the morning round, Scowsill was eight up and in complete control.
Even though Shepherd won the final hole of the morning session and continued to claw it back in the afternoon, his opponent from Woodbridge was still four up with four holes left to play.
Yet the Sussex golfer won the final four holes and then held his nerve to claim victory with a par on the second extra hole – an outcome that reduced him to tears.
As well as the honour of winning the title, Shepherd can now look forward to pegging it up at the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s next month.
It is also traditional for the Amateur Champion to receive invitations to the Masters and the US Open.
Having battled with knee and back injuries in recent times and worked in a Tesco call centre during Covid-19 lockdown, Shepherd was understandably emotional at the enormity of his achievement.
And he cited winning the final hole of an otherwise disastrous first round to go into lunch seven holes down as the moment when a glimmer of hope was retained.
“It’s an amazing, amazing feeling,” said the Rye golfer.
“To come back from eight down through 17 holes, I mean I was honestly more concerned about not making an embarrassing record-breaking defeat.
“Monty played so good in the morning, so composed, and I didn’t really have my game. To turn it around was unbelievable.
“The tears are probably for the tough times I’ve had over the last few years. It’s never nice as an athlete when you feel like you are going backwards, like I was.
“The last 18 holes I thought ‘I’m not going to win’, but at least I could get a few highlights that I can watch on YouTube one night! It’s just amazing how things can change.
“Looking back on it, winning the 18th was so important. I just managed to get into a bit of a groove in the afternoon once I won a few holes.
“I can’t describe how I felt coming down the last four holes but I was in a calm place. In the morning, I was all over the place and was more concerned about being sick on live TV.”
Shepherd can now look forward to playing in The Open at a venue he knows well.
He added: “I’ve played a few South East links championships at Royal St George’s and I’ve always enjoyed the course.
“It’s the closest one to my home address in Sussex in terms of The Open venues. I went there as a kid watching Opens.”
For the second year in a row, The R&A’s flagship male amateur event was contested by two Englishmen.
Last year Joe Long prevailed against Gloucestershire county colleague Joe Harvey.
This time Shepherd took the honours, but his heart went out to his vanquished friend.
“I feel for Monty, he is a mate of mine,” said Shepherd.
“He did play so well, holed a lot of great putts. He didn’t give it away, he really didn’t. He holed greats putts on the 34th and the 35th to make me hole mine.”
After 144 starters were whittled down to the final two, it always promised to be an intriguing battle.
Scowsill, 25, an ex-University of Exeter student, made a hat-trick of birdies from the 5th – including a wonderful chip-in from the back of the par-3 6th – to seize the initiative on a pleasant morning with little breeze.
By the halfway stage he was seven holes clear and apparently destined to win.
However, Shepherd secured his first birdie of the contest at the 23rd to return to six down and with four holes left to play dug deep to conjure up two birdies, win all four holes and then hold his nerve in the sudden-death play-off.
Scowsill said: “It’s really tough to take. I was in command all the way, really. I finished poorly and Laird finished very well, to be fair to him. That’s golf.
“It happens. It was my morning, it was his afternoon.”
“It’s still been a good week and congratulations to Laird.”
Photograph credit: The R&A