ROWLANDS Castle’s James Plater became just the third player to land the Hampshire U16s crown back-to-back – matching the feat first achieved by European Tour ace Jack Singh-Brar.
But only a badly plugged ball in a greenside bunker on the 17th hole prevented the Hayling College kid from having the chance to double up and land the county’s overall junior champion title, at Lee-on-the-Solent GC.
Plater, who claimed the U16 title at Cams Hall a year ago, was in the lead with two holes to play, as Royal Guernsey’s Ollie Chedhomme made four bogeys in a row around the turn to drop out of the lead after an opening 69.
The 16-year-old’s tee shot on the 160-yard hole plugged so deeply that only the very top of the ball was visible. James, who has been getting help from Rowlands’ two former England amateur internationals Billy McKenzie and Darren Wright, could not believe his bad luck.
He said: “My playing partner located the ball – I could not see it although I was pretty sure it had gone in the bunker. It was right up against the face leaving me practically no shot. I did not want to drop it as unplayable as I did not fancy where I would be playing it from.
“And I was really worried about it coming out and ending up in my footprints for my next shot too. I managed to move it so it came back a couple of feet but the next shot was just as dangerous – so I had to just hit it to 25-feet and take my medicine with a two-putt.
“I was fairly calm considering I had just taken five with only a hole to play, but I regrouped and stuck with my game plan, which was to play conservatively.
“My drive on 18 was down the left under the trees so I ran a gap wedge about 80 yards up to the green with the pin at the front. From the fringe I holed from 10 feet for a birdie, which was the best response I could make after what happened on 17.”
That was James’ third birdie of the round – after picking up shots at the sixth and 12th, balancing out two more bogeys at the ninth and 13th.
Up until his near disaster on the 17th, Plater’s title defence had been going well – despite making back-to-back bogeys at the second and third holes after lunch.
The teenager, who is just a couple of good rounds away from playing off scratch, added: “I was one-over par after the first round, after my 70 put me in tied third.
“I was leading the U16s but I was trying not to get too far ahead of myself all day, and looking to avoid mistakes that could run up big numbers.
“I had no idea I was actually leading the tournament before I played the 17th, or that I was tied for the lead after making a three at the last.
“Ollie – who also made a bogey at the 17th to go level – matched my birdie at the last to take the overall title by a shot.”
The Weddell Trophy was not a bad consolation prize for Plater, who could have become the first player to win both the U16s and U18s trophy in the same year since Stoneham‘s James Freeman. Before that Meon Valley‘s Harry Ellis achieved the feat in 2010.
LEE-ON-THE-SOLENT famously produced two of Hampshire’s finest ever amateurs – Steve Richardson in the 1980s, who went on to play in the famous “War on the Shore” Ryder Cup in 1991, and Sam Hutsby, who faced Rickie Fowler in the 2009 Walker Cup, the amateur game’s equivalent to the pro‘s biennial clash against the USA.
The course the two English amateur internationals grew up on may only muster just under 6,000 yards in length.
But it’s tight fairways that wind through the Alver Valley, and small targets, make it no pushover, despite the distances the county’s junior talents hit the ball today.
And with just a par of 69 – and an unusual configuration with back-to-back par fives on the front nine, and two par-threes in succession on the back nine – scoring is never easy at Lee, which also boasts two former Hampshire junior champions Aman Uddin and George Saunders among its current membership.