RYAN Henley rolled back the years to claim his fourth Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship – making him the joint-third most successful golfer in England’s oldest county championship.
The Stoneham GC member proved why his love affair with Hockley is so strong as he used every grain of knowledge gained in his six Delhi Cup wins up on Twyford Down since 2000 to get the better of Liphook’s former mini-tour pro Darren Walkley.
The 45-year-old, who claimed the first of his four wins aged 27 back in 2005, ground out six rounds of the highest quality golf to get his hands on the famous Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup once more, on Sunday.
Ryan was cheered on in the final by a group of Stoneham members including former European Seniors Tour pro Alan Mew, who recently stood down as England Seniors manager, and Southampton’s former Scottish international Paul Telfer.
A delighted – but exhausted – Ryan could not stop smiling after claiming his 4&3 win. He said: “To be honest, I said in my speech that it could have easily have been Darren stood there with the trophy, even if the scoreline suggests otherwise.
“The championship produced possibly the strongest-ever quarter-final line-up in more than 100 years, and I had to play some of my best-ever golf to beat my old county team-mate Martin Young in the semi-finals.
“Darren let me off with a couple of holes on the front nine – he had a birdie putt from eight feet on the eighth when I was three-up – having made a couple of mistakes on the fourth and sixth, to leave me three-up at the turn.
“And even though I made a bogey at the 10th, I made another birdie at the par-five 11th and then hit my tee shot on the 132-yard par-three to inside a foot.
“Once Darren missed his birdie from about 12 feet, I was four-up with six to play, so Darren had to go after every shot,” added Ryan Henley.
On the driveable 13th, Walkley – who regained his amateur status last year after playing on Germany’s ProTour with some of the best young Continental talent coming through now on the European Tour – got a favourable bounce to set up a two-putt birdie, while Henley, from short right, could not get up-and-down.
But from first cut with a the ball below his feet, Walkey tried to cut a two-iron on to the green at the par-five 14th, only to send his ball out-of-bounds at the top of Twyford Down.
That restored Henley’s lead to four and Walkley hit driver on the 340-yard 15th finding the rough short on the left. The 2015 champion was left with a tricky chip over a big bush and deep gully to find the edge of the green.
And when his chip for a birdie three did not drop, Henley had a 20-footer to cosy up to the hole before shaking Darren’s hand.
Ryan, who was playing in his seventh final after losing his first at Royal Jersey in 2000, said: “We had the county champs at Stoneham last year – where I lost to Jon Watt in the 2008 final.
“I played really poorly in qualifying last year, so I knew I had to play pretty much my best to have any chance to get to four county championship victories.
Ryan Henley has been part of new Hampshire captain Lawrence Cherry’s winter training squad, and has been pleased with his game going into the county championship week.
“I have been hitting it well – I play regularly at Stoneham with the likes of Harry Ellis, Ryan Moody, Adam Hickling (Stoneham pro). You have to play at your best in the company of those guys and they certainly motivate me to keep trying to play the best I can.
“It’s the great thing about being a member at Stoneham is there are so many good golfers of around scratch or better. I also think playing football regularly with my boy Chester, who is six, has helped my fitness.
“It was hard work this weekend, with the heat and the wind up and down the hill on Friday. I shot 78 in the first round and was not sure I would even make the knockout, but I played much better for a 71 in the afternoon to finish eighth.
“Thanks to those six Delhi Cup wins, I really do feel like a member at Hockley. I know the course really well and that helps in pressure matches in the knockout, particularly.
“I won five Delhis in a row from 2009, and then Darren took the trophy in 2014 and 2015, and I was second for his first win. I guess it showed we had the course form here, but I am really glad I got the better of him this time.
“To join someone like Brian Winteridge, who played at both Stoneham and Hockley, with four wins, and only a couple less now than David Harrison, feels fantastic, and a real honour.”
HAVING made three birdies in four holes to close out the final, Ryan Henley had been even hotter in the morning semi-final – having been taken to a fifth extra-hole by La Moye’s Jo Hacker, the 2021 champion, who had been two-up with three to play.
Hampshire team-mate Martin Young stood between Henley and his seventh final, with the added incentive that the Brokenhurst Manor man – who led Hampshire to their first English County Championship in 21 years back in 2017 – could win his fourth Sloane-Stanley too.
Their combined age of 98 was almost certainly another county record. But in the battle between the six-time Delhi King of Hockley, and the last man to win the Sloane Stanley when the Twyford club hosted the championship in 2014, Henley produced a stunning burst of four birdies and an eagle to be six-under for six holes.
There was no coming back for Young, who had beaten Stoneham’s surprise qualifier George Daniels 2&1, having been two-down after five, with no slips after back-to-back birdies left him two-up with five to play.
That win set up a quarter-final clash against 2020 champion Richard Harris, from Hayling, which Young won 5&4.
The former Portsmouth FC academy player – who played alongside the likes of Matt Ritchie and Joel Ward before retiring with serious hip injuries – gave away four holes to end any hopes of his second Sloane-Stanley.
In the other half of the draw, Walkley ended any hopes of rising US college star Charlie Forster becoming just the second player from Basingstoke to be crowned county champion, after Geoff Foden’s win in 1971.
The match ended on the 17th after another exhibition of long, straight driving from the Southland Conference Player of the Year, who claimed his maiden win for Southeastern Louisiana back in September.
Forster, who reached the semif-finals in last year’s English Amateur at Lindrick, had been involved in a marathon shoot-out in the quarter-final, taking former Great Britain and Ireland amateur international Darren Wright to a third extra-hole.