HAMPSHIRE were denied a first South East double since 1994 as Essex snatched the Challenge League trophy out of their hands in a see-saw final at Mill Hill GC, on Sunday.
For the second time in five years Sam Parsons was leading by one with two holes to play in a South East Final – and with the chance of claiming the winning putt.
But Hampshire junior Charlie Preston – playing in the match in front – missed two crucial putts inside nine feet on 17 and 18 to lose on the last, having been all-square.
The first for a birdie on the penultimate hole was to go one-up, but the attempt from eight-feet cruelly lipped out for the player who was runner-up in this summer’s Hampshire Boys Championship, at Waterlooville GC.
And when his four-foot par putt grazed the hole without dropping on the 18th, all the pressure transferred to the last two games left out on the North London course.
Parsons had been two-up after seven holes thanks to birdies at the third and fifth. But a birdie two by Essex’s Toby Peters on the eighth, and Sam’s double bogey on the ninth saw them turn all-square.
After Rowlands Castle’s Harry Fairclough – playing in his fourth Challenge League match of the season – had beaten Tim Moncur 4&3, Hampshire needed Parsons to win – and anchor-man Luke Hodgetts to gain a half to tie the final, and take the trophy by virtue of having won by more holes.
Hodgetts had been two-down after 11, but fought back valiantly to go all-square with a crucial par on the 15th. But as he arrived on the tee at the long par-three 16th, Parsons had found the left-hand trap and could not get up-and-down from six feet.
The 17th was halved in pars as Hodgetts found the other front trap on the 16th – and then cleared the green with his sand wedge before making a double-bogey five.
Parsons was left with a putt from some 18 feet to try and win his game – but saw the ball go past the hole.
And once again his Essex opponent made no mistake with his par putt – just as had happened in the South East League final at Frilford Heath, in 2018, again against Essex – but the outcome could not alter the final result, as Hodgetts lost seconds earlier on the 17th.
Lee-on-the-Solent’s Will Green – who curtailed the second year of his US Junior College golf scholarship at New Mexico just weeks into the Fall term – was sent out first. But the left-hander was four-down after just nine, eventually losing 6&5 to Olly Allison.
Playing behind Green was clubmate Aman Uddin, who along with Parsons had the most experience of playing in the Challenge League this season – the competition which replaced the U26 Colts League, removing previous age restrictions.
With Uddin in a tense-tussle with former England U16 cap Ollie Baker, which would end all-square after 18, Essex were crucially up in two more matches as the singles entered the back nine.
Pake – captaining the team in Lawrence Cherry’s absence – would lose on the last to Shay McQueen – playing in his fifth final since 2017 – having fought back from three-down after 10 to make it 4½-2½ to Essex.
Stoneham’s Harrison Price – the other junior in the Hampshire line-up – sunk a 45-footer for par to go two-up on the 14th before closing out a 2&1 win over Dominic Piccolo, who last played in 2016 when Hampshire beat Essex at Seaford, in Sussex – the last time Hampshire came out on top in a final against Essex.
But Fairclough’s full point after a 4&3 win over Timmy Moncur was the last victory for Pake’s men, who glumly gathered by the 18th green, knowing that they had let the title slip from their hands.
Things had looked promising before lunch as Green and Uddin teamed up to thump McQueen – playing in his fifth final – and Dominic Piccolo, who was on the losing team against Hampshire in the 2016 Final.
Par golf was largely enough to put Hampshire seven up after 13 to give the Lee pair an early lunch, while Price and Hodgetts were four-up at the turn against Peters and Essex captain Coombs, winning 6&5 to join Green and Uddin supporting their team-mates.
Preston and Fairclough found it tough against the Moncur brothers, losing 5&4 leaving Pake and Parsons out in the top match.against Baker and Allison. Hampshire had been two-up at the turn, but the Essex pair won four holes in five from the 13th, including three birdies to earn a hard-fought 3&1 win.
Another point for Hampshire would have tested Essex’s strength in-depth in the singles which they have tended to excel in over the South Coast county over the last decade.
•CHALLENGE LEAGUE FINAL – FULL RESULTS
•Hampshire were looking to do the South East double for just the second time in the county’s history since the Colts competition was founded in 1969 – five years after the inter-county men’s league started.
They won both titles in 1994, and have won the Daily Telegraph Salver outright on seven other occasions, while claiming the Colts’ cup nine times in 53 years.
They won the last Colts League last year when it was played as one division, despite losing at home to Essex. But the chance to become the first county to win the Daily Telegraph Salver in the men’s final, and the new Challenge League at the first attempt had gone.