Jordan Smith (Bowood G&CC, Wiltshire) faces a tough task in defence of the Brabazon Trophy when the English Men’s Open Stroke Play Championship takes place at Seaton Carew Golf Club in County Durham on 25th – 28th June.
Smith (image © Leaderboard Photography) was impressive when he won the title at Formby a year ago, finishing four strokes ahead of Ireland’s Brian Casey with four players, including internationals Ben Taylor (Walton Heath, Surrey) and Jimmy Mullen (Royal North Devon) a further stroke behind.
Most of those will be in action again in a field of 150 that includes internationals and many title winners from home and abroad, a host of talent that befits England’s leading stroke play championship.
Arguably, Smith, a member of last year’s GB&I Walker Cup team, faces the greatest threat from his England team-mates such as Ryan Evans (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire), Toby Tree (Golf at Goodwood, Sussex), Ashley Chesters (Hawkstone Park, Shropshire & Herefordshire) and Paul Howard (Southport & Ainsdale, Lancashire) as well as Taylor and Mullen.
Evans, 27, who made his England debut in last year’s Home Internationals, won two titles in Australia last winter and has also represented England in the European Nations Championships and in the recent international against France. He was also called up for the European team that faced Asia-Pacific in the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy in India earlier this year, winning four of his five games.
Tree, 20, a former England under 14 and under 16 champion and boy international, made his full England debut against France in 2012 and has been a regular in the team since then. Has several victories in South Africa, including the IGT Series last winter and this year won the Welsh Open Stroke Play in a playoff.
Chesters, 24, is the reigning European Amateur champion following his victory at El Prat in Spain last August. Like Tree, he made his full England debut against the French in 2012 and this year has enjoyed several top ten finishes including joint runner-up in the Selborne Salver, third in the Hampshire Salver and fifth in the Welsh Stroke Play. He also represented Europe against Asia-Pacific in the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy.
Howard, 23, also made his full England debut in last year’s Home Internationals. He won the South American Amateur Championship in Colombia earlier this year and has since finished second in the Hampshire Salver, joint fourth in the Hampshire Hog and equal seventh in the Lytham Trophy and the Welsh Stroke Play.
Taylor, 21, has finished fifth and third in the last two Brabazon Trophies, while Mullen, 20, hole-in-one during last year’s Brabazon and this year has won the Duncan Putter and finished runner-up in the West of England Stroke Play.
The Brabazon Trophy could also be won by other England caps such as Harry Casey, 21 (Enfield, Middlesex), Ben Stow, 22 (Rushmore, Wiltshire) or Tomasz Anderson, 22 (Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire). The latter pair are at college in the United States and have achieved victories on the college circuit recently.
Others who could play a key role are Luke Johnson, 22 (King’s Lynn, Norfolk), winner of the Berkhamsted Trophy and West of England Stroke Play this year, Michael Saunders, 23 (Dartford, Kent), another England cap and third in the Welsh Stroke Play, and Nick Marsh, 19, a boy cap and now a full international, who lost a playoff for this year’s Portuguese Amateur.
The overseas entry is strong on quality and one to watch could be Thriston Lawrence, South African Amateur champion for the past two years. He underlined his credentials by winning the Lytham Trophy at the start of May and would love to emulate his fellow Springbok Charl Schwartzel, who won the Brabazon at Royal Cinque Ports 12 years ago and the US Masters in 2011.
Lawrence is one of three South Africans in the field while France has the largest foreign entry with 11 of the 23 non-British and Irish competitors. The last non-English player to win the Brabazon was Niall Kearney from Ireland, who won at Moortown in 2009.
His compatriot, Gavin Moynihan and Rhys Pugh from Wales, both members of the 2013 Walker Cup team, could also come to the fore as well as a number of Scottish internationals including Scott Borrowman, Bradley Neil and Alex Culverwell.
Virtually all of the 2013 Welsh Home Internationals team will also be in action including Zach Galliford, Richard James and Alastair Jones while a number of England’s talented youngsters could spring a surprise.
These include Robert Burlison (Oxley Park, Staffordshire), Daniel Wasteney (Lindrick, Yorkshire), Bobby Keeble (Crowlands Heath, Essex) and Haydn McCullen (Delamere Forest, Cheshire).
On the other side of the age gap, don’t ignore the likes of 45-year-old Ed Richardson (Rye, Sussex), an England international who won the Hong Kong Amateur in 2012 and the West of England Stroke Play last year, or Steven East (Moortown, Yorkshire), who won his maiden seniors’ title a few weeks ago.
Two qualifying competitions were staged in May with 30 players from each joining those who were exempt. Tom Gandy (Rowany, Isle of Man) won the Northern Qualifier at Ringway while James Allan (Chelmsford, Essex) led the way in the Southern Qualifier at Effingham.
Defending champion Smith tees-off at 7.50am on day one and at 12.20pm on day two alongside Lawrence and Evans in what promises to be a highlight of opening rounds while Mullen and Anderson are paired together ten minutes earlier on each day.
Play begins at 7am on the first two days and 7.30am on the last two and admission is free. For those unable to attend, live scoring and news updates will available on the Championships Section of the England Golf website, www.englandgolf.org.