THE story of how Justin Rose announced his great talents by winning the Hampshire Hog as a 14-year-old nearly 30 years ago has been inspiring junior golfers across the county ever since.
Within three years, the North Hants GC member, from Hook, became the youngest-ever player to appear in the Walker Cup – the amateur’s equivalent to the Ryder Cup, held biennially.
And the chance to play against the Americans at St Andrews, in September, means competition in the UK-based events attracting World Amateur Golf Ranking points should be fierce with the added incentive of playing at the Home of Golf in the 2023 Walker Cup.
After defeat at Florida’s legendary Seminole GC when COVID halted much of the build up events, the Americans completed three successive wins, even though the result was much closer than many predicted.
The organisers of this year’s Hampshire Hog at the Fleet golf club, which takes place on Sunday (April 16), were expecting a large influx of England squad players, hungry for those all-important WAGR points,
Players who compete in the Selborne Salver, at Bordon’s Blackmoor GC 24 hours earlier compete for the Hampshire Salver based on their 72-hole scores, which is a WAGR event.
But as has been increasingly common over the last decade, the established players in the England Golf set-up have swerved what was traditionally the second major event in the amateur calendar – after the Berkhamsted Trophy and King George V Centenary at Hertfordshire’s Porter’s Park.
The former is now a 72-hole in its own right, but played as a mixed competition – meaning the number of elite male entries has gone down considerably since it was last played before the pandemic in 2019.
Leading the England contingent at the 2023 Hampshire Hog is Coxmoor’s England junior international Seb Cave – last year’s winner of the Berkhamsted – and Yorkshire’s George Ash.
The latter reached the final of last summer’s English Amateur Championship – at the expense of North Hants’ new star Charlie Forster.
The latter made a big step up from junior golf in 2022, making his county debut in both the South East league and regional qualifier for the English County Finals.
Forster, who is in his second year at South Eastern Louisiana University, was beaten at the last hole at Lindrick, having impressed the England selectors along the way.
And in another twist, Ash, from Sheffield’s Hallowes club, had England Walker Cup star Sam Bairstow on his bag for the latter stages.
Bairstow claimed the Hampshire Salver at North Hants in 2019 and launched the left-hander, who turned pro last year, into the England set-up.
But with Forster still in the States until the middle of May, Ash will be keen to follow his clubmate by winning a trophy at North Hants this weekend.
Former county captain Neil Dawson will be on hand to present the Hampshire Hog to the 26th winner since Rose famously picked up the distinctive silver boar, having taken over as the club’s men’s captain earlier this year.
Neil stood down as Hampshire captain earlier this year and handed over the reins to Stoneham GC’s Lawrence Cherry, who captained the county colts to victory in the South East U26 League for the first time in seven years, back in October, with North Hants players Alfie Mepham and Robert Wheeler in the team.
Neil said: “We were expecting a very strong entry with it being a Walker Cup year. But with my county hat on, there is a great chance for our Hampshire players – including Darren Wright and Toby Burden, who reached the county final here in 2019 – to shine against those England players who are coming.
“It is still a very strong field made up of most of the best players in the region.”
Ironically, Dawson’s successor moved from his job as one of the golf managers at Southampton’s Stoneham GC to become the assistant manager at North Hants back in September.
Cherry, who was a playing manager at Colts level, has said he does not envisage competing for a place in the Hampshire first-team – six years ago Martin Young famously captained Hampshire to their first English County Championship since Justin Rose was in the team back in 1996, while still playing.
But the club’s new assistant manager is in the field for Sunday’s Hampshire Hog – the last winner from the home club was Justin Rose back in 1995.
The Hog is also a counting event in the 2023 Hampshire Order of Merit, for the first time since the competition began in 2014. The first winner – Darren Walkley, from Liphook – is in the field having regained his amateur status after the 2016 Hampshire, isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Champion spent six years playing mini-tour golf, including the German-based Pro Golf Tour.