HAMPSHIRE’S former England U16 international George Saunders spoke about his desire to play in this week’s Brabazon Trophy – after missing out in last week’s South Qualifier held at Golf at Goodwood, a course where he is a member.
Saunders was desperate to qualify for the Brabazon, having missed out last year at Beaconsfield GC, having found some form back in the States over the last couple of months.
George, who switched to Richmond’s Victoria Commonwealth University – after having to sit on the sidelines at University of Tennessee for two years – revealed: “I really wanted to qualify. I love Sunningdale and caddy up there sometimes, so I know both the Old and the New Courses really well.
“It’s one of the top courses in the UK and Europe, and has hosted many top amateur and professional events.”
Saunders started the 2023 qualifier in the worst possible way, making a bogey four at the 180-yard first hole before making back-to-back sixes, to go five-over par after just three holes.
But having endured some of the worst experiences college golf in the States can give you for 24 months – watching from the sideline – the Lee-on-the-Solent GC member bounced back in style
Saunders, who has twice been crowned Hampshire’s junior champion in his age groups, eagled the 536-yard fourth, and then got back another shot at the fourth with a birdie three.
A shot went at the next short hole, but he made a three at the 10th to get back to two-over with seven to play.
And while the 2018 West of England Amateur Champion made another birdie at the par-five 14th, he gave it straight back at the 15th and dropped another at the final par-three, the 17th.
A birdie at the last proved to be one shot too many to make the automatic qualifying spots, but reinforced Saunders’ view that his last year in the States had seen him turn a corner.
George added: “After the frustrations at Tennessee, my decision to switch to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond was the right one.
“I ended the year with the two top 10s – one event featured some of the top names in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
“I shot 11-under in the Hootie Championship at Bears Bay to finish fifth and was sixth in the other. That showed my game was back in good shape and not too far away before my return home, earlier in May.
“I finished third at Hockley in the Delhi two weeks ago, and have been working hard with my coach Kev Flynn, at Tournerbury, concentrating on getting into a good positive mindset for the events coming up.
“That made the Brab Qualifier even more frustrating really. I will now just have to see what happens in the last few hours regarding any more withdrawals.”
Saunders’ adventure in America had started so well pre-pandemic with two very successful years at Texas Midland, playing junior college golf, where he was ranked in the top five as an individual in the NAIAJC rankings.
A switch to a top div one college in the “tougher” NCAA was the next logical step. But the former Meon Valley G&CC junior, who regularly practised with future Amateur Champion Harry Ellis, could not force his way into the starting line-up at Tennessee.
Having sat at Sunningdale from very early on Thursday morning, hoping a late withdrawal would earn him an 11th hour entry, he got to play, but made a disappointing start with an eight-over par 78.
In the next few weeks, Saunders will try to test his game in the Amateur Championship at Hillside, from June 19-24.
Entry into the St Andrews Links – which has led to Hampshire’s best players missing the county championship which normally clashes with Europe’s top strokeplay event – is now determined more by World Amateur Golf Rankings than handicap.
You can follow George Saunder’s progress in the second round of the Brabazon on live scoring here