The Surrey Amateur Championships for 2016 were held over the magnificent neighbouring courses of Banstead Downs and Cuddington during the weekend of June 3rd-5th.
Although the weather on Day one was not the deluge of last year’s qualifying round, the players were faced by cold, windy conditions with one commentator stating that June 3rd was actually 1 degree colder than Christmas Day 2015!! The courses were playing fast despite the significant rain in the week running up to the tournament, with both in excellent condition.
Despite the difficult conditions there were some excellent scores in the qualifying rounds with no less than fourteen under par rounds notably one from defending Champion and County Captain, David Corben. David returned scores of 70 & 66 to lead the field on six under par. A clear five shots ahead of Sunningdale's Will Dugdale who was one shot further ahead of US college player and West Hill member Callum Mackay, Sean Phillips of Reigate Hill and England U16 international and Surrey first team player, Angus Flanagan. The cut for the matchplay came at five over par but only after an exciting three man playoff which saw U18 squad member, Alfie Fox, take the 15th spot with a solid birdie on the par 5 First hole. First team player, Terry Nicholls pinched the last spot for Saturday morning by beating his long time friend and school mate, Pat McCarthy of Dulwich & Sydenham, with a par on the uphill finishing hole at Cuddington.
The Matchplay stages commenced at 8-00am on Saturday in far more pleasant and seasonal conditions. The order of play was-
Corben v Nicholls
Booker v Hodgson
Mackay v Berrington
Phillips v Mutter
Flanagan v Brittain
Tonge v Meek
Cox v Buckland
Dugdale v Fox
Again some excellent golf was on show with some tight games notably past Champion Mark Booker nudging out Burhill's Duncan Hodgson on the 18th green, and although some scores may suggest comfortable wins for a few the matches were nip and tuck all round, most being settled by killer blows just at the appropriate time.
The subsequent quarter final line up was-
Corben v Booker
Mackay v Phillips
Flanagan v Meek
Buckland v Fox
The current and immediate past County captains Corben and Booker set off at great pace in the opening quarter final match with David just being at bit too strong for his old friend winning the match 3&2 with an excellent pitch shot from the left side of the par 3 16th hole. Callum Mackay continued his excellent form for the week by beating the long hitting Sean Phillips 4&3 to also progress.
The remaining quarter finals would both go to the last green with Angus Flanagan narrowly missing from 20 feet to lose to the impressive Scott Meek, who had only recently moved to live in Surrey formerly from the Isle of Wight. U18 star Alfie Fox pushed First team player, Nick Buckland, all the way but an errant tee shot in to the trees at the last from Fox meant Buckland had 3 putts from 35 feet across the last green to progress into the Semi final on Sunday morning.
Sunday morning saw the Semi Finals, Corben v Mackay and Buckland v Meek.
Corben again started quickly and although missing a short putt on the 9th, passed the clubhouse towards the 10th tee 2 holes to the good. Mackay won the 10th & 11th to reduce the deficit but missed a short putt on the 15th for Corben to head to the 16th in front by the narrowest margin. Halves in par saw the players head to the Par 5 penultimate hole where 2 magnificent shots from Mackay followed by a 20 Foot eagle putt meant Corben would take a 1 hole lead to the 18th. Both players would hit the green in regulation, but both would take 3 putts on the tricky green and Corben was in his 3rd successive Final.
In the 2nd Semi Final it was tight through the early stages with Buckland just in front coming through the turn, however a 3 putt bogey from the Addington Palace man on the 13th saw Meek level the match. However, 3 quick wins in succession from Buckland closed out the match 3&2. The 2016 Final would be between David Corben & Nick Buckland.
The Final started with a healthy gallery including both losing Semi Finalists. Solid Pars on the First from both were then followed by a Buckland eagle 3 on the 2nd and a Corben birdie at the 3rd. Buckland then missed the 4th in a tough spot and Corben hit the front for the first time.
Pulled tee shots on the 5th and 7th from Buckland extended Corben's lead to 3 before he himself made an error taking 3 putts on the 9th to turn 2up. There were halved holes at 10, 11, 12 & 13 before both players hit their tee shots on the long 14th into the left rough. Both players had tough lies but Buckland managed to hit the green whilst Corben pulled his approach slightly and his lead was back a single hole.
The 16th was halved in par, before Buckland hit the shot of the Championship to level the match. Having the honour off the tee, Buckland slightly pulled his tee shot which left him partially blocked out. Corben meanwhile was in prime position. Corben played sensibly but just caught the greenside bunker. Buckland tried a Bubba style hook shot around the trees but didn't quite get the movement on the ball and ended up 40 yards past the green towards the 18th fairway. Faced with a downhill shot through the pines to the pin on the double tier green with the lower level furthest away, Buckland pitched to perfection and holed a double breaking 12 footer to level the match.
Both players made excellent regulation pars on the uphill 18th in the circumstances and off to the 19th hole the match went. Buckland's renewed challenge faltered with a poor tee shot into trouble down the left and following a Buckland penalty drop and two solid Corben shots to just left of the green, saw Corben take his two putts to defend the title, the first since PD Flaherty in the mid seventies.
Many congratulations to David and the other matchplay qualifiers and many thanks to Cuddington and Banstead for their excellent hospitality all weekend.
Thank you to the many volunteers and Surrey officials who gave their time, and put in a huge amount of work ensuring another successful County Championship.