DARREN Walkley holed a 45-foot birdie putt to snatch the Courage Trophy from five-time champion Martin Young in a dramatic climax to the Hampshire Golf season – and confirm his victory in the county Order of Merit.
Young had just made a bogey four on the island green overlooking the Needles in the Solent, that makes the par-three one of the most picturesque in the county.
The sun was just starting to set as Young, the former English Mid-Amateur Champion from Brokenhurst Manor, handed in his card for a seven-under total as the costly mistake saw him shoot 69 in round two.
Walkley, who had led the county strokeplay championship at lunchtime on five-under after matching defending champion Toby Burden and Young’s 67 before lunch, was playing two groups behind Young and saw his score posted onllne as he waited to play the intimidating tee shot over the water.
The Westbourne-based golfer stepped onto the green having escaped with a par on the long 17th having driven wildly right and almost landing in a big gorse bush.
That had halted the momentum of having made a birdie four at the 15th and rolling in a 20-footer for a two on the long par-three 16th, to get to eight-under.
He pushed his tee-shot on the 18th pin high – but to the back left, and just off the green, before boxing the putt from the fringe, earning a cheer from the watching crowd on the clubhouse balcony above.
A delighted Darren said: “It was pointed out to me that it was just over 11 years ago that I lost to Martin Young in a play-off for the Courage, at Hayling, which was my home course back then.
“I have always felt that the Courage Trophy has owed me one ever since 2012. I really like Barton – which is also by the sea, but there was not too much wind. It was the first time I have played the nine holes of the Needles course, and there is not a weak hole among them.
“I got lucky on the last par-five. I hit it off the planet right straight towards the gorse. But I walked straight up to it and found it in the rough.
“I had to hack it out sideways to get back in play but managed to make five, but having made a great two on the 16th, it was a bit of momentum killer.
“I was a bit down stood waiting on the tee for Martin in the group ahead to finish, and it was not the greatest lie caught up on the edge of the fringe, but it was just great to see that drop from the best part of 50 feet.
“Sometimes you go out and play and the putts drop – some days they don’t whether they are for birdie, par or bogey. I felt like that was a bit of payback and I got back what the Courage owed me.”
His two-shot win also gave Walkley the Cole Scuttle for the best 72-hole aggregate in the Courage and the County Championhip qualifier, beating Young by four, having finished tied on the same score as Pechell Salver winner Joe Buenfeld, at Hockley, in June, but missing out on countback.
His winning total was seven-under par with Stoneham’s Ryan Henley
This year’s final individual event of the county season was the first time Walkley had played in the Courage since 2014. That was the year when Young created history by claiming all five men’s championship titles in the same season.
Nine years ago, the 2006 English Mid-Amateur Champion won the Courage, the Hampshire Mid-Amateur (Over 35s), the Pechell Salver (best county championship qualifying score), and the Cole Scuttle, awarded for the best 72-hole total in the Courage and county championship qualifier.
In 2012, Walkley was unknown in county circles, having got down to scratch after joining Hayling from Southsea, where two years earlier he had helped them win the County Sevens, playing off a seven-handicap.
This year, Walkley has been runner-up in the Selborne Salver after losing a play-off in the nationally-ranked 36-hole open back in April, and was beaten in the final of the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship, at Hockley, in June.
He then won the Mike Smith Memorial Trophy for the first time at Brokenhurst Manor, in June, having recovered from a first round 75 to fire a brilliant 65 to win by one from Burden.
But even without that birdie on the last and his first Courage Trophy, Walkley was already assured his third Cullen Quaich, having topped the Hampshire Order of Merit for a third time, having won the season-long competition in the first two years of its history in 2014 and 2015.
Burden was looking to become the first person to win the Cullen Quaich three times in a row. But the points Darren amassed in his first four events of the season, meant he could not be caught at Barton with two of his nearest challengers – Rowlands Castle’s Colin Roope and Blackmoor Bowl winner Sam Parsons – not making the trip through the New Forest, and Bramshaw’s Joe Buenfeld having resumed his golf scholarship in the States.
The Courage win gave Walkley his third Order of Merit win to Burden and Roope’s two, and gave the 2015 county champion a great sense of satisfaction in his first full year back as an amateur.
It also means he has won the Cullen Quaich in every season he has entered it, missing the six seasons in between after turning pro months after he became Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Champion.
The 33-year-old played on the EuroPro Tour and the German-based Pro Tour for five years until he was forced to give up just before the onset of Covid, unable to support a young family.
It’s another two years before Walkley is eligible to have a tilt at the Hampshire and English Mid-Amateur titles. But no doubt he will be thinking of going one better and adding a second county championship before then.
YOUNG had the consolation of earning his 11th county win in the over 35s – run concurrently – thanks to that total of 133.
That was two ahead of Stoneham’s county champion Ryan Henley, who beat Walkley at Hockley in June’s final to earn his fourth Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup.
Barton-on-Sea’s captain David Green made his significant home advantage count playing in the Courage and Mid-Am contests. He won the handicap prize with nett scores of 72 and 69, playing off six, to beat Young on countback after the plus-two player shot 69, 72,
Green also took the handicap prize in the Hampshire Mid-Amateur Championship beating Young by the same margin.