MEN'S COUNTY CHAMPION 2018 JAMES SURRIDGE OF CENTURION
JAMES BEING PRESENTED THE CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY BY COUNTY PRESIDENT LESLEY HEWITT
FROM L TO R, RUNNER UP LAURIE OWEN, SEMI FINALIST MATT SMITH, CHAMPION JAMES SURRIDGE, SEMI FINALIST PHIL DORMER & DEFENDING CHAMPION AND MEDALIST TONY WILKINS
Our flagship Men’s event was played last weekend (May 25 – 27) at the Old Fold Manor Golf Club on the outskirts of Barnet, the first time they had hosted the event since 2004. The event this year was a week earlier than its ‘normal’ slot in the calendar of the first weekend in June, due to the fact the Brabazon Trophy, the premier strokeplay event in the county run by England Golf, had moved a week later than normal. Therefore, in the interests of maintaining an excellent field of competitors the decision was made to move the event to the last weekend in May and it is highly likely to remain in this slot for the foreseeable.
Defending Champion was the grizzled veteran Tony Wilkins of Harpenden Common, who has had an excellent last 18 months of golf, with his County Championship win last June at Brookmans Park being the pinnacle. Unfortunately, Tony’s opponent in last year’s final, Danny Daniels of Essendon, is still in the US at college and was unable to take part, as was Harry Goddard of Hanbury Manor, in France playing in the French Amateur Championship and Max Hopkins of Bishop’s Stortford who was in Madrid playing in an England Under 16 match vs Spain Under 16’s. Despite these absentees it was still a strong field, with all 10 of the Men’s 1st Team taking part along with several of the Colts team and +3 handicapper Rob Watkins of Hadley Wood, fresh off his victory at the King George V and Herts Bowl at Porters Park the previous weekend.
The Old Fold Manor course is renowned for its small, severely sloping and often speedy green surfaces, certainly among the trickiest in the county or even the South East. The recent warm and dry weather had significantly firmed the course up and in the days leading up to the event the greens were becoming hard to hold, but rain overnight Thursday into Friday morning significantly softened the course.
The Friday strokeplay element of the Championship was for the most part played in fine and dry weather with minimal breeze. The course was presented nicely with the greens smooth and true and with the pin positions in favourable positions this all equated into good scoring on the day. After 18 holes 24 players returned scores of 73 (+2) or better. Leader after the morning was Stuart Patrick of Sandy Lodge with an excellent 69 (-2), with 5 players a shot back on 70 (-1), including the defending champion, Tony Wilkins. The afternoon saw two players shoot 67 (-4), Rob Watkins and Tony Wilkins, with Tony finishing as our ‘medalist’ (for the 2nd year running) on 137 (-5) and Rob in 2nd position, 3 shots behind on 140 (-2). Incidentally this was the same 1st and 2nd in the 2017 Men’s Order of Merit (MOOM) final standings. In 2004 the qualifying mark for the top 16 places making the Saturday matchplay draw was over 150 (+8), but today the mark was made on 147 (+5), with 15 players returning scores of 146 (+4) or better, leaving one available space. 5 players who had returned scores of 147 made their way to the 10th tee for a playoff to determine the last space and a Saturday morning match with Tony Wilkins. The play off was a short affair with Jack Slater of Letchworth converting an 8 foot putt to make a birdie 2 on the short par 3 10th to take the last available spot.
Rain overnight again into the Saturday morning helped soften the course, although today's pin positions would be much tougher than the previous day, very much ‘tucked away’! The curse of the leading qualifier didn’t come into play in 2017, with Tony Wilkins going on to win the Championship, however it certainly did in 2018. Jack Slater, whom only progressed through the play off the previous evening, defeated our medalist Tony in the round of 16 on Saturday morning on the 2nd extra hole. Elsewhere 2nd seed Rob Watkins won his match against Jason Mitchell of Porters Park on the 16th green 4&2, where if he converted the birdie putt on the 16th green Rob would have been -7 through 16 holes. Luke Colgate of Berkhamsted shot a bogey free round of 68 (-3) in his match, but this was not enough to defeat Jon Hopkins of Bishop’s Stortford, who prevailed 1 up. Home interest was extinguished when Spencer Davis lost to Alex Macarthur of Letchworth on the 18th green. Alex was 5 up through the turn but Spencer fought back to make the match competitive and definitely gave Alex a scare!
The Saturday afternoon quarter finals saw some very interesting match ups with the majority of the Men’s 1st team still involved. Jack Slater couldn’t push on from his scalp in the morning and narrowly lost 1 down to Phil Dormer of Essendon. James Surridge of Centurion, who had required 20 holes to defeat Niall Johnston of Letchworth, found himself 2 down with 2 to play against the confident Alex Macarthur. Alex played the final two holes poorly and an excellent long putt on 18th green from James for a tap in par 4 meant extra holes would be required once more. This time they went all the way to the 5th extra hole, the 23rd in the match, where a solid par 4 from James was enough to take the match as Alex 3 putted from above the hole on the treacherous green. James had ended up playing 43 holes in a day!
In the bottom half of the draw 2015 Men’s County Champion Laurie Owen defeated Jon Hopkins 3&2, but not before Jon made an amazing recovery shot. Jon, with a right handed club, turned the club around and swung it left handed as his ball was tight up against the boundary fence to the left of the 11th hole. Amazingly from 175 yards Jon hit the shot with a short iron within 10 feet of the hole. Jon would win the hole as Laurie was also impeded by the aforementioned fence. Jon was playing his 8th round in 4 days after finishing 2nd in the Lagonda Trophy at Gog Magog earlier in the week. In the bottom match between Rob Watkins and Matt Smith of Chesfield Downs, some inspired short game shots kept Matt in the match, most notably at the 1st extra hole where a stunning chip which almost went in allowed him to proceed when most thought the match would end. Matt would take the match on the 20th green where Rob missed a short putt to extend the match.
Thunderstorms threatened the final day but thankfully would not materialise until a few hours after completion of the final match. Both morning semi-finals were battles of attrition to some degree as all players were now playing their 5th rounds in 3 days. The top half saw Phil Dormer play James Surridge and the bottom half saw Laurie Owen play Matt Smith. Pleasingly for the county all 4 are Men’s 1st Team squad members. Both semi-finals were tight affairs which ended up going in favour of James in the top match 2&1 and Laurie in the bottom on the 18th green 1 up, with Laurie holing a nerveless short putt to take the match.
So our final match would be between +2 handicapper James Surridge of Centurion, who last year won the Benka Trophy for the best individual gross score at the England Golf South East Group Men’s qualifier at Sheringham, and +3 handicapper Laurie Owen of Letchworth, our 2015 Men’s County Champion, who won the title at the nearby Hadley Wood Golf Club.
The final started in style with a chip in birdie 3 at the 1st from Laurie, but this would be the only time in the match Laurie would lead. James fought straight back with a birdie of his own at the 2nd to square the match. Over the next few holes Laurie would make a series of errors which would cost him the next 3 holes which James gratefully accepted with solid pars to lead 3 up on the 6th tee. Laurie would birdie the 8th to claim a hole back and won the 11th after James drove into the water hazard to the right. However, this was as close as it would get as James took advantage of a huge drive on the par 5 13th and was on the green in two with an iron and when Laurie made a bogey 6, James’ lead was back to 2 up. The tricky 14th hole was halved in par 3’s and James stretched his lead to 3 up with a birdie 3 on the par 4 15th, helped by an amazing curly putt from the back right of the green. James was now 3 up with 3 to play but left himself a lot to do with a 10 footer to win the match after missing the green to the left. But James made a terrific stroke and the ball smoothly made its way into centre cup on a good pace. James was our Men’s County Champion and our Champion golfer of the year. The match was played in excellent spirit between two county team mates.
Our congratulations to the winner James and commiserations to the runner-up Laurie. James will now go on to represent Hertfordshire at the England Golf Men’s Champion of Champions event at Woodhall Spa in September.
Our particular thanks to Old Fold Manor for hosting the event in such fine fashion.
The 2019 Men’s County Championship will be played at Harpenden (Hammonds End) Golf Club, in celebration of their 125th year.
THE FINALISTS ON THE 1ST TEE WITH CHIEF REFEREE AND CHAIRMAN OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP COMMITTEE DR ALAN THOMSON
THE FINALISTS ON THE 1ST TEE
PHIL AND JAMES ON THE 1ST TEE AHEAD OF THEIR MORNING SEMI FINAL MATCH
LAURIE & MATT ON THE 1ST TEE AHEAD OF THE THEIR MORNING SEMI FINAL MATCH