BLACKMOOR’S Sam Parsons is determined to make up for lost time having regained his place in the Hampshire team in time for this Sunday’s South East League Final against Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire (B.B.&O.).
Five years ago, he was the last player out on the course in the final – and lost a one-hole lead with two to play.
He could do nothing as Essex’s Taylor Carter held his nerve to hold a five-foot par putt for the half on the 18th, which gave his county the title.
Parsons admitted he had completely forgotten about the heartache on the last green at Frilford Heath, in 2018.
The 30-year-old, who runs his own landscape gardening business in Portsmouth, said: “It’s funny, but I had completely forgotten about that until I was reminded about my debut.”
Parsons admitted having to settle for the half – a win by him would have meant Hampshire shared the trophy, which was snatched cruelly from his hands – had not left any lasting scars.
Sam said: “I had played in a couple of county events the year before, and went down to Trevose for the English County Finals to caddy for my clubmate Colin Roope and Tom Robson, from Rowlands Castle.
“The weather over the three days was foul at times, but Hampshire played some fantastic golf with the likes of Billy McKenzie in the six-man team.
“It was a brilliant weekend, an unbelievable experience helping our guys beat some of the best amateurs in the country – and win the English County Champinship for just the second time in Hampshire’s history.
“Even though I was not playing, being part of that team – with the grit and determination they showed to win the English County Championship for only the second time in 80 years – was unreal.
“I wanted to be in the team and did well in the Order of Merit in 2018 – and got called up for the final by Colin Roope, who had become captain that season.
“Now every time I put on the Hampshire badge, I just feel honoured and love playing for the county. Every time is a proud moment – I never take it for granted and always put in 110 per cent to grind out the best result I can.
“We have some unbelievable players and to be picked for the final, from the squad we have available, is a great honour.”
Parsons earned his recall to the Hampshire first-team after some strong displays in this year’s Hampshire Order of Merit events – including a win in the Blackmoor Bowl, at the end of August.
He also picked up maximum points against Kent to help Cherry’s Challenge League team reach the first final in the replacement for the old Colts competition, with the U26 age restriction now scrapped.
Sam, who played in the same junior set up as a teenager at Waterlooville GC as future Amateur Champion Scott Gregory, was in the first-team squad for the 2019 season.
And after COVID cancelled the 2020 season, he featured again in 2021. But last year he took the decision to step aside for personal reasons away from the golf course. But now he is back and determined to repay the captain’s faith in him.
Sam added: “Being out of the squad for over a year definitely made me realise how much I missed playing, and how much I wanted to get back in the team.
“I am proud – having been out for so long – of the decision I took to put in some work, and play well enough to get back into the team.
“It’s a real feelgood factor knowing the guys in the team are phenomenal golfers – and I am part of that team again. It gives me the belief that I can compete at the highest levels.”
Captain Cherry – the youngest in post-war history at just 26 – said: “Sam played really well when I called him up to play Kent in the Challenge League – which replaced the Colts League this year – his last year in the Colts was 2019 when we were beaten by Essex in the final.
“He has shown this summer he is playing at the kind of levels that got him into the first team five years ago.”
Hampshire final team stronger on paper
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”.
Cherry’s eight-man team now have the chance to win the Salver for the first time since 2012 when Richard Elmes’ team featured Harris Ellis – just a couple of months after becoming the youngest-ever English Amateur Champion.
Sunday’s clash with B.B.&O. at Kent’s Wildernesse GC will be the first time Hampshire have reached the final – after winning the South Division – since 2018. They have won the title outright seven times and shared the trophy twice, in 2001 and 2009.
In 2018, Roope’s side were also without key players, who had returned to college in the United States, including Meon Valley’s George Saunders, former England U16 junior, now a member at Lee-on-the-Solent, who has spent the last five years in the States.
Cherry is without last year’s English Amateur semi-finalist Charlie Forster, from Basingstoke GC, New Forest ace Joe Buenfeld and Jersey’s 2021 county champion Jo Hacker, who have all gone back to the States.
FORMER Hayling GC member Darren Walkley will get to play in his second South East League Final, in Kent, on Sunday.
The former mini-tour pro, who reached the final of the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship in June, was on the losing side against Essex, in 2014, in a team that also featured Corhampton’s Scott Gregory, who won The Amateur Championship two years later.
Walkley returned to the first team – for the first time since turning pro at the end of the 2015 season – in their comeback win against Sussex, at East Brighton GC, in June,
The runner-up in this year’s nationally-ranked Selborne Salver, at Blackmoor, in April, will be a key player for county captain Lawrence Cherry, having won two of his four South League matches.
There were fears Walkley would be unavailable for the final. The self-employed carpenter stressed he regained his amateur status to enjoy his golf before his recall to the first-team.
But the player from Westbourne, who played once on the European Challenge Tour – and competed against the current crop of best young Continental players on Germany’s Pro Tour from 2019/20 – also admitted he has lost none of his competitive drive after quitting the pro ranks.
Cherry’s vice-captain Toby Burden, from Hayling, was in the team that shared the trophy in 2009 when Mark Burgess got up-and-down on the last at Surrey’s Hankley Common, to tie the match with Hertfordshire.
He also played in 2018 after regaining his amateur status in 2016 after five years playing on the EuroPro Tour.
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).