HAMPSHIRE captain Lawrence Cherry will go into this weekend’s South East Qualifier for the English County Finals without two of his big guns in his Six-man team.

But the absence of both four-time county champion Ryan Henley and Darren Walkley – the man the Stoneham ace beat in the final to land the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship at Hockley a month ago, has not dented Cherry’s confidence as Hampshire try to win the South East Six-man title for the first time since 2017.

That year was of course when Hampshire landed the English County Championship for just the second time in their history, but over the last five years – minus the Covid season when the event was cancelled – Hampshire have finished second, fifth, fifth and sixth respectively.

But even without Walkley, the county champion in 2015, who helped Hampshire reach their fifth English County Finals in nine years the last time he competed in the six-man before turning pro, and Henley – who was a member of the teams that qualified in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2015 – Cherry is happy with the strength of his squad heading to Surrey’s Farleigh Court, on Saturday.

Cherry, Hampshire’s youngest captain in more than 70 years, said: “We have a very strong squad, even without the two players who reached the county championship final, just a month ago.

“There are not many counties in the country, let alone the South East Group, who have that strength in depth. Both Darren and Ryan have young families so were unavailable.

“But we have Martin Young, playing in his 23rd six-man qualifier – he has been on the winning side eight times – appearing in eight English County Finals must also be a record at national level.

“He’s just finished tied second in the Logan Trophy at Enville – with Stuart Archibald making a tremendous defence of the English Mid-Amateur Trophy finishing fourth just a shot behind Martin.

“Martin was also very unlucky to lose to Ryan in the semi-finals so I know he his playing very close to his best, and we all know how good that is – he has won the Hampshire Salver, the Lagonda Trophy and the English Mid-Am before.

On top of that we have our vice-captain Toby Burden, who helped us win the Six-man at Stoneham – the last time we hosted the event back in 2010 – he turned pro that summer and missed the finals.

Darren Walkley Toby Burden Champions

Liphook’s Darren Walkley is missing for the South East Championship, but Toby Burden is hoping for a repeat of the 2010 victory at Stoneham. PIcture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

“Toby has become Hampshire’s most consistent player over the last four years since getting his amateur status back, winning our Order of Merit two years in a row. I am sure his CV would be even better for having an English County Finals appearance on it.

“He was our leading scorer at Eaton, in 2021, shooting six-under when B.B.&O. Shot the lights out that weekend. HIs score would have been good enough to win the Peter Benka Trophy for the lowest individual in many of the last 20 years.”

Cherry’s predecessor Neil Dawson said when he took over the captaincy in 2020 he would not be afraid to blood some younger players with the county having had more than a decade of success in the event because of their top draw mid-amateurs (over 35s).

Bramshaw’s Joe Buenfeld, winner of the 2019 European Junior Open, makes his second Six-man appearance this weekend, while Basingstoke’s Charlie Forster, largely unknown outside of the county 12 months ago, is also back for a second stab – and fresh from another win in Hindhead’s Peter Alliss Memorial Trophy last week.

His captain added: “Charlie went up to Worksop and LIndrick a couple of weeks after playing at Bury St Edmund’s last year and reached the last four of the English Amateur.

“He has had another successful year at Southeastern Louisiana University, picking up his first win in September, followed up by four more top 10s which earned him the Southlands Conference Player of the Year. He lost to Darren Walkley in the semi-finals, and could just have easily reached the final and won it.”

The rest of Cherry’s team is made up by Archibald, from Test Valley GC, and North Hants’ debutant Robert Wheeler, probably the most improved players in the county ranks over the past two years, having spent two years working hard at The Tournament Golf College in St Mellions, getting valuable experience playing on Portugal’s ProTour in the winter.

Lawrence added: “Stuart played in the winning team in 2007 and is our second past English Mid-Amateur champion in the team. He and Martin were in the play-off for the Logan Trophy at Liphook just over a year ago and have both had a shot at winning their second Over 35s title.

“Stuart’s experience, like Toby and Martin’s, is invaluable in helping Charlie, Joe and Robert to perform at their very best.”

La Moye’s 2021 county champion Jo Hacker is playing for Jersey in this week’s Island Games, is another who would have had a strong claim to a place in Cherry’s team, while the fact that former Brabazon and Carris winner Darren Wright from Rowlands Castle is not in the team also shows how deep Hampshire’s strength is.

The nature of the competition has changed over the last couple of years, with the best five scores now counting in each round. Up until 2020, all six scores counted in both rounds, making the competition more defensive with a DQ a real danger to any team’s chances – and one bad hole potentially a card-wrecker.

The last three winning totals have been -10, seven-under and 25-under with Berks Bucks and Oxon claiming the title twice.

But Cherry’s men have produced two comprehensive wins so far in their league matches against Kent and Sussex, winning the latter 8-4 at East Brighton GC without losing any of the eight singles matches.

Lawrence added: “The whole squad has been really buzzing after those two victories – we have had a good dozen players pushing for six-spots at Farleigh Court. Darren and Ryan’s unavailability has made my job a little easier selection wise.

“But that’s the kind of headache I would rather have – who to leave out. We have had a good look at the course – the weather may well prove a big factor,with strong winds and some rain forecast.

“But we have done our homework on Farleigh with our coaches Kev Flynn and Simon Andrews, so are as confident as we can be, while acknowledging that this is the hardest of the four divisions to qualify from.”

You can follow Hampshire’s progress on Facebook and Instagram.

Robert Wheeler six-man

Robert Wheeler is the only debutant in the Hampshire team at this weekend’s Six-man qualifier at Surrey’s Farleigh Court. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES


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