LEE-ON-THE-SOLENT GC’s George Saunders was left sweating overnight on his chances of playing in the Brabazon Trophy at Sunningdale’s prestigious New Course.
But his prayers were answered when Estonia’s Carl Hellat pulled out on Thursday morning, giving Hampshire’s former England U16 international a tee time at 1.50pm.
Saunders was desperate to play the Brabazon on a course he knows so well, but having spent the morning anxiously awaiting news of any last-minute withdrawals, the early start did not help for what was to follow.
The Virginia Commonwealth University player, who finished the season with two strong performances for the Rams after two nightmare years of not being able to force his way into the University of Tennessee team during the pandemic, could only shoot an eight-over par 78 on Harry Colt’s testing New Course at Sunningdale.
That left him down in 124th place out of the 150 starters, and requiring a very low score in Friday’s second round to have any chance of making the cut.
But he got a bird’s eye view of what is needed to score well on the New as playing partner Jean-Leon Aeschlimann, from Switzerland made seven birdies – including four in a row from the 12th – thanks to a hot putter o share the lead with a sparkling 65.
The top 60 players and ties will compete over the weekend for the trophy which has been won by the likes of Sandy Lyle, Peter Baker, Ronan Rafferty, Spain’s Ignacio Garrido and Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who all went on to feature in the Ryder Cup – and South Africa’s Augusta Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, who lifted the Brabazon back in 2002.
Despite Saunders’ disappointing day, there was something for Hampshire Golf fans to cheer about as past champion Darren Wright battled his way to a 74 – matched by Test Valley’s reigning English Mid-Amateur Champion Stuart Archibald.
That left the Hampshire pair in a share of 67th place after both had made less than impressive starts. Wright, who held off the likes of Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrell Hatton – both now Ryder Cup players – to win the Brabazon at Royal Liverpool, in 2010, dropped five shots on his front nine.
A five at the first was cancelled out by a good two at the second. But after a double-bogey six at the fourth, three more shots went at the odd holes before the turn.
A birdie three at the 12th, got him back to four-over, and the Rowlands Castle player – who had four years playing on the EuroPro and Challenge tours before calling time on his spell as a pro before the 2017 season – did well to par in from there.
Wright is one of just 10 players to have won the English Boys’ and Men’s Amateur Strokeplay titles after his victory in the Carris back in 2006, knows he will need to improve to compete in all four rounds, trailing the joint leaders by nine shots.
Archibald, who claimed the Logan Trophy by winning the English Mid-Amateur at Liphook, last July, won three times on the EuroPro – to Wright’ sole victory in 2016 – having turned pro two years earlier.
The 2006 Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Champion, who got his amateur status back three years ago, made a double bogey at the par-three fifth, and let another shot go at the eighth.
His back nine saw just one more shot got at the par-three 14th, and the European Tour rep for Foresight will also relish the battle in his second round to make the cut.
Wright earned an exemption into the competition as the only recent past champion still eligible to enter as an amateur, while Archibald was exempt as the Logan Trophy winner in the Over 35s category.
The only Hampshire player to make it through qualifying last week was Waterlooville’s James Pinhorn. The captain of his club’s County Sevens team that reached the finals day, in October, shot a seven-over 77.
Aeschlimann’s five-under total – which included back-to-back bogeys around the tour – was matched by Dublin’s Sean Keeling, who impressively kept a clean card alongside his five birdies, making three in four holes from the 11th.
The Berkshire GC’s John Gough, who has won the Irish Amateur and the Australian Master of the Amateurs already in 2023, having won the Lytham Trophy and Spanish Amateur last year, is in fifth place after a 68.
West Herts’ Selborne Salver winner Zac Little – the son of European Tour winner Sam – is in a share of 17th, five behind the leaders.
•Full full scores from the first round click here.
Five Hampshire players have won the Brabazon in its 76-year history – Paddy Hine claimed the English Strrokeplay crown as a 17-year-old when it was played for a third time, on his home course at Stoneham, where he also won the county championship earlier that summer.
Hine, who went on to a high-flying career in the RAF and captained the R&A in 2010/11, was followed by Hartley Wintney’s Stan Fox, in 1956, denying Philip Scrutton a memorable hat-trick in 1957 at Somerset’s tough Burnham & Berrow links course.
Guernsey’s Bobby Eggo lifted the striking gold trophy in 1988 at Saunton before Wright’s win at Hoylake in 2010, when a certain 15-year-old called Jon Rahm made his Brabazon debut.
Corhampton’s Neil Raymond also won at Burnham & Berrow 12 months later to keep the trophy in Hampshire and then became the first player to retain the English Amateur Strokeplay crown in more than 50 years with victory at Walton Heath in 2011.
It was the first time the trophy had resided in one county for three years in row – only four golfers have won the Brabazon back-to-back, but two of them, Worthing’s Gary Evans, and Essex’s Sir Michael Bonallack, shared the trophy in one of their two successive wins.
Bonallack, who won the most Amateur Championships in post-war history with five victories, claimed the Brabazon a record four times.