DARREN Walkley believes his experience of playing Hayling’s windy links has given him the edge when it comes to winning his two Delhi Cups at Hockley Golf Club.

The hilltop course is perched on top of Twyford Down, above the M3 cutting on the outskirts of Winchester with the outward holes climbing up the slope before playing the plateau and the final four holes running back down the steep hill.

Walkley – fresh from his runner-up spot in last month’s Selborne Slaver – is the favourite to claim his third Delhi Cup after back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015 – the year he turned pro after winning the Sloane Stanley Challenge Cup at the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship.

Former Hayling member Darren, who now plays at Liphook GC – said: “The breeze can get up on the top of that hill at Hockley, so you need to play a few linksy shots. I think playing at Hayling defiinitely helped me win twice at Hockley.

“You also need to putt well there with your pace putting – the slopes are quick tricky on the greens. They have made a few changes with the bunkering which are good and the change to the 13th hole is great too.

“I played my practice round up there one evening this week, and the course was in great condition – as Blackmoor was for the Salver – especially considering how wet the weather was during the winter.

“I was quite surprised how long the course played – the fairways were very soft so there was not much roll, especially uphill. And with the breeze up the par fives were hard to reach in two. The weather forecast is good for Saturday, but I think it will still be playing long.

“You can definitely make your score on that back nine, and as I have already explained, I am not dedicating myself to playing a full season. I need to balance my golf with my son’s love of motorcross.

“So when I can play, I will be going out there to enjoy myself, but also to win. Every time I peg it up now I am playing as an amateur again, it is the same as being a pro – I want to win and I will be thinking about winning.

“But having lost my younger brother Alfie a couple of years ago, I know it’s important to enjoy life, and for us blokes to speak up about how we are feeling and our emotions.”

Links player Darren Walkley

Liphook’s Darren Walkley believes his links experience at Hayling has helped him win two Delhi Cups at Hockley. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

Walkley, whose singles match against Lancashire’s Sean Towndrow proved the decisive point as Hampshire, IoW & CI lost out on the English County Championship title as the Northern Division Champions ran out narrow winners.

Towndrow was an England squad member at the time, but spent a couple of seasons out of the game after he was diagnosed with cancer that hampered his attempts to play professionally.

Walkley also knows not to take life for granted after his family’s tragic loss in 2020 and has always been one of the county’s most outwardly relaxed players under pressure.

After six years playing against Europe’s leading young professional golfers on the EuroPro and Germany’s ProTour circuit, the “links king” is keen to show how that experience has made him a much players than the one that claimed the first two Hampshire Order of Merit titles.

Darren, who played on Hayling’s links for 10 years after joining the club in 2011, added: “Winning is hard enough in golf, so yes, defending title takes some doing, so I am proud of my achievements.”

Walkley’s win at Delhi in 2014 ended Stoneham’s Ryan Henley’s incredible run of five successive victories at Hockley.

After COVID cost Walkley his professional career, and prevented a number of events like the Delhi Cup from taking place for two years, last year’s event was won by Stoneham’s James Freeman, a two-time Hampshire Junior Champion.

James Freeman Delhi Cup winner 2022

Last year’s Delhi Cup winner James Freeman receives the trophy from Hockley club captain Alan Carpenter

The University of Birmingham PGA degree student went on to claim the Hampshire county crown on his home course at Stoneham just over a month later.

This year’s county championship returns to Hockley for the first time in nine years – and only the second time in the club’s 109-year history, with Brokenhurst Manor’s Martin Young completing the first-ever Hampshire Slam, by winning the Pechell Salver, the Sloane-Stanley trophies, to add to the Courage Trophy (county strokeplay) and Hampshire Mid-Amateur (Over 35s) Championship.

The chance to add to his sole Sloane-Stanley win will also appeal to Walkley, given his love for Hockley’s links-like challenge in the wind.

Another former winner in the field is Lee-on-the-Solent’s George Saunders. The 2016 champion was also beaten in a play-off last year, along with Hockley’s own former South East Junior Champion Tom Chalk, who followed former Hampshire Boys team-mate Joe Buenfeld to Texas’ University of the Incarnate Word back in September.

Buenfeld and Chalk are back from the States, with the latter hoping to go one better than 12 months ago. There is a strong field with 17 players with experience in the Hampshire first-team in the field, including Stuart Archibald, Test Valley’s current English Mid-Amateur Champion.

Rowlands Castle’s Darren Wright, the 2010 Brabazon Trophy winner, is another former pro in the 66-strong field, alongside Henley, and Stoneham’s former Hampshire Junior Champion Alex Talbot, who has spent the last four years in the States.

Sandford Springs’ past Berkshire and Berkhamsted Trophies winner James Knight, who played in the same Hampshire team as Justin Rose that were crowned English County Champions in 1996, also makes an appearance, having finished fifth in the Hampshire Hog at North Hants, last month.

North Hants’ Robert Wheeler, Stoneham’s Harrison Pake, and Lee-on-the-Solent’s 2019 Hampshire Junior Champion Aman Uddin, who all made their first-team debut for Hampshire against the Channel Islands, at Royal Jersey, three weeks ago, are also looking for their maiden Order of Merit win.

•See the Delhi Cup start sheet here.

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