THE amateur career of Connor Bell has largely been played in the shadow of his older brother Jonathan, who was an England  Boys international as a teenager, having been crowned a Wee Wonders Champion several times before he was even 11.

But now it is the turn of the very successful Euroepan Tour caddie’s younger brother – by nine years – to Hog the limelight after the biggest win of his career so far – at the home club of Justin Rose, the event’s youngest ever winner at just 14, back in 1995.

He emerged victorious from a three-man play-off against Felixstowe Ferry’s Daniel Nicholls and Five Lakes’ Jackson Garnett, in the fading light when the latter missed two short putts that would have given Essex the title, or at least taken them to what would have almost certainly been the last hole as darkness started to fall.

Bell junior had had a bit of a nightmare at Blackmoor in the Selborne Salver 24 hours earlier, shooting rounds of 79 and 76, which left him 17-over par and down in 63rd place in the 72-strong field.

That finish made his performance on Sunday morning even more remarkable as he ripped up the very quick North Hants greens – running at 11.6 on stimp.

Bell, who has played in two English County Finals for Kent and been reserve on two other occasions, rammed home three putts from over 25 feet on his way to a course record 64.

He also made a remarkable par from 30 feet at the par-three 10th, after going over the green, long and left in the second round.

The 23-year-old made a 33-footer for a birdie three at the second, then at the next hole, he drilled a 27-foot eagle putt on the first par-five to get to three-under after three.

Connor Bell Royal Blackheath

Royal Blackheath’s Connor Bell was Kent’s first winner of the Hampshire Hog since 2008. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

Dropped shots opened door to chasing pack

Another long putt disappeared into the cup at the fifth after he hit his seven-iron to 30 feet, before converting from six feet at the sixth to get to five-under.

A shot went when he missed the green on the seventh, but he was out in five-under with 10-foot birdie on the short eighth and a par at the ninth.

A bogey at the 11th briefly threatened to kill the round’s momentum but five pars in a row steadied the ship. But Bell got to six-under with back-to-back birdies on the par-five 17th and the last, which would see all the drama later on.

Two dropped shots in the first four holes, as Bell started from the 10th after lunch, gave plenty of encouragement to the rest of the field – particularly as the clouds came over and the wind rose to make it much colder.

The greens, which were in magnificient conditions thanks to the work of greenkeeper Sam Evans’ team despite the appalling winter weather, dried out in the wind and, not surprisingly, became bumpy in places.

With the players able to follow a live leaderboard on their phones, no one was giving up even when Bell made a birdie on the 14th to move back to five-under – only to gave it back with a bogey six at the long 17th

He reached the turn on four-under but the drama began after a birdie at the fourth gave him a two-shot lead – only for the leader to make six at the next hole, before bogeying the seventh for a second time.

With Garnett and Nicholls both in the clubhouse on three-under, Bell was suddenly the chaser and responded brilliantly.
Having gained a great deal of confidence after reaching Final Qualifying for last year’s Open for the first time, Bell made a birdie on his last hole – the ninth.

Bell, whose older brother helped Tyrrell Hatton to two big wins on the bag on the DP World Tour in 2017, and caddied for the former B.B.&O. junior at his first Masters, said: “I hit my approach on the ninth to 12 feet.

“A few of the boys were stood by the green and one said, ‘You might need this one for a play-off,’ and luckily it dropped.”

Wee Wonders

Tyrrell Hatton and Connor Bell’s brother Jon first met playing in the Wee Wonders with future PGA Tour star Aaron Rai, seen here (back left) at the St Andrews Final

Bell, who now has more club championships to his name that his brother at Royal Blackheath – the oldest club in England – held his nerve to par the 10th twice, and the 18th, as Nicholls dropped out with a bogey at the first-extra hole.

Connor had made a good two-putt from the back of the green after going long, and after they made comfortable pars at 18,

Garnett got out of jail the second time they played the 10th. His tee shot missed the green on the left and he made a great up-and-down, holing from just inside 10 feet.

But playing the 18th for a second time – with Bell in the bunker off the tee, and leaving his approach 25 yards from the pin – Garnett missed a par putt for the win pushing his five-footer firmly past the hole.

He then missed the return from three-feet to give Connor his first big win on the national stage. He followed Kent winners Matt Haines (2009) and Jason Barnes, who also won a three-man play-off that lasted four holes, including young England junior Eddie Pepperell back in 2007.

Bell also joined the likes of Ryder Cup stars Sandy Lyle and Rose on the honours board, along with great amateur legends, Sir Michael Bonallack and Peter McEvoy.

The Hampshire Salver – for the 72-hole aggregate with the Selborne Salver – went to Jackson, who pipped Liphook’s former county champion Darren Walkley on countback, after he had shot 70, 71 to go with his rounds of 68 and 70 to finish fourth at Blackmoor.

Past winners of the Hampshire Salver include Rose, Ross Fisher, Callum Shinkwin and Jordan Smith – who have all gone on to become European Tour winners.

Nuneaton’s Andy Sullivan played in the 2016 Ryder Cup, five years after winning it back-to-back to join Fisher and David Gilford (1986 winner) to feature in the biennial clash against the USA.

Hampshire Salver Garnett Jackson

Five Lakes GC’s Jackson Garnett who took the Hampshire Salver on countback from Liphook’s Darren Walkley. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

Salver spoils go to Five Lakes’ Jackson Garnett

BELL was unable to cash in on his victory fully as he was only 23rd in the Hampshire Salver thanks to his score at Blackmoor, on Saturday.

But his aim is to play in as many of top amateur events as he can in 2024, before returning to the DP World Qualifying School in the autumn.

Connor, who spent the last couple of months playing in Portugal with Sussex’s John-Exon Taylor – who stepped up on the bag for the play-off – said: “I am very lucky to have a couple of companies that sponsor me.

“It means I can put in all the work I do,” said the son of a London cab driver. Dad’s been great to both Jonathan and I playing golf down the years. Dad and I go running together, which is great for clearing the mind when I want to play golf.

“My brother fixed up a practice round for Open Qualifying with Marcus Armitage last year, and I am constantly learning from him every day he is out on tour.

“As well as Tyrrell Hatton, Jon has caddied for Matthew Southgate, Tom Lewis and is now on South African Loius de Jaeger’s bag. He hits it miles.

“We were never rivals playing when I was younger because of the age gap. I used to go to these events when I was small and I would be having chipping and putting competitions with the likes of Tommy Fleetwood and Eddie Pepperell and the other England boys.

“I might have taken a bit longer, but with all that experience and knowledge, I am really looking forward to playing in as many big amateur events as I can this summer, like the Scottish Amateur, the Berkshire Trophy – the Welsh Amateur Strokeplay is next on the list – plus the Brabazon Qualifier.

“If I can’t get in a few of them because I don’t have enough WAGR points, I will look to enter things like the French and Dutch Amateurs and hopefully the English Amateur again.

“I have lots of friends out in Asia. I will go to the European Q-School but probably Asia as well. Of course, that opens up the chance to get on LIV eventually.”

And if that happens, he might just have to ask Jon – who won the Reid Trophy at the English U14 Championship in 2004 – to go on his bag!


Jon Bell Hampshire Hog

European Tour caddy Jon Bell playing in the Hampshire Hog as an England squad member in 2012. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES


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