HAMPSHIRE produced their best performance at the South East Qualifier in six years – missing out on a place in the English County Finals by 11 shots, at Farleigh GC, on Saturday.
Their second-place finish behind newly-crowned champions Kent was their best since their victory at Sheringham, in Norfolk, six years ago.
That win on a breezy day by the sea propelled captain Martin Young’s team to Hampshire’s second-ever English County Championship title in 92 years – and their first in 21 years since a teenage Justin Rose was in the side.
But Lawrence Cherry, the youngest Hampshire captain in more than 70 years, was taking the positives out of coming up short in the 2023 South East Qualifier, which saw defending champions Surrey finish four shots behind his team, despite having home advantage.
Cherry, the deputy general manager at Fleet’s North Hants GC, had seen his team come in just a shot behind Kent at lunch.
Former North Hants junior Charlie Forster’s brilliant 67 led the individual race for the Peter Benka Trophy by two shots. But last year’s English Amateur semi-finalist had to settle for eighth after a second round 78.
Only four players broke par before lunch as they battled against a ferocious gusting gale force wind and showers, which left playing conditions right on the limit at times. Surrey’s Ben Patridge claimed the individual honours on two-under after two 71s – only one other player broke par.
Lawrence said: “I was proud of the way the boys battled hard all day – if anything it was even tougher after lunch as the greens got harder to putt on – with the wind and the amount of traffic, from 66 players playing two rounds on them.
“If the competition had been played under the old rules – with all six scores counting instead of the best five – it would have been a tie, although Kent’s better afternoon score would have still won it.
“The organisers admitted there was an argument that with the balls moving on some greens in the first round, it could have been called off, with the final result based on 18 holes.
“But the conditions were the same for everyone, and we can only applaud Kent’s play and congratulate them on their second win in five years, having not won it since the late 1970s.
“We have a phenomenal record over the last 25 years, having finished first eight times, including three in a row from 2015.
“We have Charlie Forster and Joe Buenfeld, who led our scoring, halfway through their golf scholarships in the States. They should have at least two more six-man qualifiers before they even think about turning pro.
“And now Robert Wheeler (North Hants) has had that experience on his debut in really, really tough conditions, he can now kick-on and cement his place in our top six for strokeplay events.”
Cherry had been without the two players who contested the county championship final in June – four-time Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup winner Ryan Henley, from Stoneham, and Liphook’s former pro Darren Walkley, the 2015 champion.
While their availability would have made Cherry’s final selection even harder, the county captain insisted he still had a very strong team at his disposal.
Veteran Martin Young played in his 23rd straight six-man qualifier, having finished tied second in the English Mid-Am for a second-year running, a week earlier at Enville GC.
Just behind him was Test Valley’s former EuroPro Tour winner Stuart Archibald, who finished fourth in his defence of the Logan Trophy he won at Liphook in the Over 35s championship.
Archibald and Hayling vice-captain Toby Burden could not match the scores around par that Kent’s mid-amateurs produced to propel them to victory, but were far from disgraced.
Cherry added: “To finish second without Ryan and Darren shows just how strong Hampshire are – our mid-ams have been the backbone of our team over the last decade or so.
“Now we have some fresh young blood raising the levels of competition all-round.”
•Cherry’s men face Surrey at Blackmoor GC, on August 6, in a showdown for the South Division title – and a place in October’s South East League Final at Kent’s Wildnernesse GC.