HAMPSHIRE will be able to call upon their at least one of their top US college stars when they face Surrey, on Sunday, in a showdown for a place in October’s South East League Final.
County captain Lawrence Cherry, the youngest at 26 since the position was created in 1950, knows victory over their long-time rivals at Blackmoor GC, will guarantee a trip to face the North Division champions at Sevenoaks’ Wildernesse GC, in two months’ time.
Basingstoke’s Charlie Forster’s defeat in the second round of the English Amateur Championship at Ferdown, on Friday afternoon, means the 21-year-old Southland Conference Player of the Year should be available for the South Division title decider.
Hampshire are gunning for a place in the final for a 16th time since the competition was founded back in 1964 They have gone on to land the Daily Telegraph Salver on nine occasions – but oddly, it took them 22 years to win their first crown.
But they dominated the competition from the mid 1980s, winning the Salver three times in a row from 1986 and losing to Middlesex in both 1989 and 1990.
Under North Hants’ former England international Lionel Smith, Hampshire pulled off a hat-trick of victories from 2000, although the title was shared in 2001 when rain washed out the final against B.B.&O. at Moor Park.
Hampshire tied with Hertfordshire at Hankley Common in 2009 – when future Brabazon Trophy winners Darren Wright, from Rowlands Castle (2010 Hoylake) and Corhampton’s Neil Raymond (Burnham & Berrow 2011 and Walton Heath 2012) were both in Andy Bow’s team.
Since then Hampshire have only been crowned South East Champions once more – in 2012 – losing the final in 2014 and 2018 – the last year they won the South Division.
Cherry, whose side produced a remarkable comeback in the singles against Sussex in June, when they went unbeaten to turnaround a one-point deficit in the morning foursomes, will finalise his line-up after Saturday’s key practice session at the East Hampshire heathland club at Bordon.
Five Hampshire players came through the rain-affected qualifying rounds at Dorset’s Ferndown and Broadstone course, including three members of this first-team squad.
Jo Hacker – Jersey’s Gold Medal winner at the recent Island Games – and Bramshaw’s Joe Buenfeld, the 2019 European Junior Open winner, were knocked out in round one, along with former Hampshire Boys Champion Alex Talbot (Stoneham) and 2021 Pechell Salver winner Harvey Denham (South Winchester).
North Hants GC’s Robert Wheeler – who made his Six-man debut in the South East Qualifier which saw Hampshire finish runners-up behind Kent, two weeks ago – missed the cut in Dorset, as did Cherry, who got in as a late replacement.
Forster’s run to the last four at Lindrick a year ago saw him miss the heavy defeat against Surrey, at Kingston’s historic Coombe Hill.
Lawrence said: “Obviously everyone had high hopes of our players doing well at Ferndown, and making a strong bid to follow in the footsteps of Harry Ellis, Scott Gregory, Richard Bland, Steve Richardson and Kevin Weeks in getting to the final.
“But if any of my players had made it to Saturday’s quarter-finals, they would have missed our important practice session, and obviously if they made Sunday’s final they could not play against Surrey.
“I had a couple of players on standby this week until the picture became clearer about who got through at Ferndown. We can now focus as a group on the task in hand. A draw might still be enough to reach the league final but it’s in our hands – win and we are there.
“Our coaches Kev Flynn (Tournerbury GC) and Simon Andrews (Portsmouth Golf Centre) will sit down with the players and come up with the game plan and some of the guys have been up during the week to play a practice round, before we do it as a group on Saturday.
“Confidence is sky high after the wins over Kent and Sussex and having dedicated our win at East Brighton to our former county secretary and president Keith Maplesden, who died suddenly the week before, I know the team will be thinking of him when the match gets under way.”
Cherry is also boosted by the availability of Stoneham’s Ryan Henley, who won his fourth Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup at the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship, in June, and Liphook’s former EuroPro and Pro Tour player Darren Walkley, the man he beat in the final at Hockley.
Both missed the six-man qualifier for September’s English County Finals because of family commitments but are back to try to help Hampshire reach their 16th South East League Final.
HAMPSHIRE v SURRE (August 6, 2023, Blackmoor GC) squad: Toby Burden (Hayling); Martin Young (Brokenhurst Manor); Charlie Forster (Basingstoke); Jo Hacker (La Moye); Ryan Henley (Stoneham); Darren Walkley (Liphook); Robert Wheeler (North Hants); Stuart Archibald (Test Valley); Harrison Pake (Stoneham).
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