HAMPSHIRE captain Lawrence Cherry will lead his team in search of a first South East League Final victory in 11 years when they tackle Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire, on Sunday.
The golfer, who is assistant manager at Fleet’s North Hants GC, will have to field a team without half the side that won the South Division by just half a game point in August.
Cherry’s three US college-based players are all understandably unavailable, but North Hants’ Robert Wheeler – arguably the most improved player in the Hampshire first-team set-up over the past 18 months – is also absent because of college commitments in Cornwall.
Lawrence, who is the youngest Hampshire captain in post-war history at just 26, will travel to Kent’s Wildernesse GC to face B.B.&O, still confident his men can avoid the defeats they suffered in the 2014 and 2018 finals.
He said: “Obviously losing players of the calibre of Basingstoke GC’s Charlie Forster (pictured), Joe Buenfeld, from Bramshaw, and La Moye’s Jo Hacker is a blow.
“But nearly every county captain in England Golf’s South East Group faces losing their US-based players for the finals, including next week’s Challenge League final, which we have also qualified for.
“I was hoping that Robert might be able to travel up from St Mellion, in Cornwall, in time for Saturday’s important practice round, and then play in Sunday’s final before heading back.
“But he is in the final year at the Tournament Golf College and they have important lectures on a Saturday, so it’s too much to then drive all that way and be out at the crack of dawn for the final without a practice round.
“We always strive to prepare as professionally as we can, even though we play as amateurs, and a good amount of rest and sleep are an important part of that preparation, as well as the practice time we put in.
“It would not be fair on Robert to try and do that, however much I would like him in the team – and it’s not as if we don’t have good, experienced replacements ready to take his and the US players’ places.”
Indeed, Stoneham’s Harrison Pake has been knocking on the first-team door all summer, and lost a play-off in the Hampshire Open – beating nearly all the Hampshire PGA club professionals at Royal Winchester, in July.
And Blackmoor’s Sam Parsons – who made his Hampshire debut in the 2018 final, at Frilford Heath – when Colin Roope was also without several college players – claimed the Blackmoor Bowl, the penultimate event in the county’s Order of Merit.
The 30-year-old landscape gardener took a year away from first-team golf last year, having been a regular in the league team between 2019 and 2021.
Parsons shouldn’t forget his debut after watching Taylor Carter snatch the trophy from his hands, when the Essex man made a five-foot par putt on the last for the decisive half in the last match left out on the course.
Another big Blackmoor winner – Hockley’s Luke Hodgetts who claimed the nationally-ranked Selborne Salver last year – also returns, having played in the opening league game against Kent, at Liphook, in May.
Hodgetts partnered last year’s English Mid-Amateur Champion Stuart Archibald against the Channel Islands and Kent – and the pair won last month’s County Foursomes, at North Hants, so reuniting them to face B.B.&O. was a no-brainer for the captain.
The two finalists in this year’s Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islads Amateur Championship will also play key roles for Cherry.
Stoneham’s Ryan Henley claimed the Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup for a fourth time in June, beating Liphook’s Darren Walkley, after a stellar run through the four knockout rounds during which he beat three-time champion Martin Young.
Former mini-tours pro Walkley had the joint lowest score in qualifying and beat reigning English Amateur Joe Sullivan during the magnificent comeack win against Sussex, also in June.
Henley has also played in five English County Finals since 2001, forming a formidable foursomes partnership with former county captain Young, from Brokenhurst Manor, his regular alternate shot partner in the league.
Young, who led Hampshire to only their second English County Championship in 2017 – 21 years after Justin Rose was in the 1996 winning team – is still one of the most fearsome matchplay opponents in England, despite approaching his mid-50s.
HIs experience could be vital in the four foursomes and eight singles matches at the picturesque parkland course near Sevenoaks.
Last year’s English Mid-Amateur Champion Stuart Archibald will maintain his ever-present record having recovered from illness this week.
Two weeks ago, the 39-year-old former county champion – who played in the 2007 English County Finals before turning pro, won the County Foursomes for the first time.
The three-time winner on the EuroPro Tour teamed up with Hockley’s Luke Hodgetts, who played foursomes with Archibald, who regained his amateur status three years ago, to win by a shot from Henley and Stoneham’s former county captain Richard Elmes, at North Hants GC.
Cherry said: “The County Foursomes was a perfect dress rehearsal for us given that Stuart and Luke won – they picked up two points playing foursomes against the Channel Islands in our pre-season friendly, and against Kent in the first league match.
“It was hard to leave Luke out after the team got off to a great start at Liphook, like that, but with the US-based players returning from college around that time, and then the form of Ryan Henley and Darren Walkley at the county championship a couple of weeks later, I had to got with the most in-form players.
“But Luke has always been an important member of the squad. He won the nationally-ranked Selborne Salver and the Solent Salver – for the best aggregate in the Mike Smith Memorial and Stoneham Trophy – last year to force his way into the first-team after some strong displays for the Colts.“
Three Counties miss England’s Gough brothers
B.B.&O. are without the Gough brothers for the final – John, who played for GB&I against the USA in the Walker Cup at St Andrews last month, has turned pro and is playing in the DP World Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Trophy in Scotland, while former British Boys Champion Conor has returned to the States.
Two years ago, Conor – who won the English Amateur Championship at Hankley Common, in 2019, aged just 16, shot the lights out to send the Three Counties to the English finals with a 10-under par round at Norfolk’s Eaton GC.
On paper, Hampshire – who won the South Division by just half a game point after tying with Surrey after two wins apiece – look the stronger team, even without their three college “stars.”
Hampshire played B.B.&O. in the final two years in a row in 2001 and 2002. The two teams shared the Daily Telegraph Salver the first time after torrential rain prevented even the foursomes being played.
Twelve months later, Hampshire came out on top at South Beds, near Luton.
Hampshire’s last win in the South East League came in 2012 when captain Richard Elmes team beat Essex 7½-4½ at Ashford Manor, three years after they shared the trophy with Hertfordshire after a 6-6 tie at Surrey’s Hankley Common.
Captain Andy Bow – who had led Hampshire to the English County Finals in 2007 and 2008 – had future England internationals Darren Wright, from Rowlands Castle, and Corhampton’s Neil Raymond, in his eight-man team.
Between them they would win the Brabazon Trophy at the English Amateur Strokeplay Championship over the next three years.
Bow was unable to pick Lee-on-the-Solent’s Sam Hutsby, fresh from his Walker Cup exploits against Rickie Fowler, as he turned pro.
But the 2009 final did see Hayling’s Toby Burden feature in his first final, along with Henley and Young – and that trio’s experience of the big occasion could be key for Cherry.
HAMPSHIRE SQUAD: Lawrence Cherry (capt), Ryan Henley, Harrison Pake (all Stoneham); Toby Burden (Hayling); Martin Young (Brokenhurst Manor); Darren Walkley (Liphook). Sam Parsons (Blackmoor); Luke Hodgetts (Hockley); Stuart Archibald (Test Valley).
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