DARREN Walkley produced one of the biggest turnarounds of his career to claim the Mike Smith Memorial Trophy at Brokenhurst Manor, on Saturday.

The Liphook member was less than a happy camper at lunch having shot five-over par on the course where he claimed the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship, in 2015.

But having made five bogeys and a double, with just two birdies on his card in the first round, Walkley, the former Pro Tour player – who returned to the amateur ranks last year – went 10 shots better after lunch.

He produced a brilliant 65 to win by one from county colleague and former clubmate Toby Burden, from Hayling.

Even then, the round took time to ignite, making back-to-back birdies on the sixth and seventh, before making three more in four holes on the back nine, from the 13th.

Even more remarkable was he went so low playing in blustery winds that regularly added two – and sometimes three – clubs to the players’ distance calculations.

A delighted Darren said: “I was really struggling in the morning. The course has changed a lot since my win here in 2015.

“They have removed a lot of trees to open it up again to encourage the heather to grow, which makes heathland courses so tough to play.

“I was finding it hard to pick my lines off the tee – so many of the trees which were there eight years ago have gone. I have not played here since my county win.

“I think I just struggled to commit to the shots because of that and if you are not committed, you will make mistakes.

“Someone texted me before the event and said they thought I should win at least one trophy out of the Mike Smith Memorial , the Stoneham Trophy and the Solent Salver – for the best 72-hole aggregate over the weekend.

“I told them that my confidence was not great going into one of our biggest weekends of the season, after the county champs and the Courage Trophy.

“It was a hard week at work,” said Walkley, who gave up playing professionally after a series or injuries and bad breaks before COVID, when he then found himself unable to play for the money he needed to support his young family.

Darren, who now works as a carpenter, said: “We have just moved to a new site in West Sussex, so I can’t get back up to Liphook to play in the evenings as much as I could earlier in the season.

“I don’t know if it was the chicken and pasta we had for lunch or what, but I found something in my swing in the nets before I went out again.

“Something clicked, and I played very nicely after lunch. It was great to get the win,” added Darren who lost a play-off for the nationally-ranked Selborne Salver, at Blackmoor, in April, and was then beaten in this year’s county final at Hockley, in June.

Walkley was delighted to win the Mike Smith Memorial for the first time. Smith was the second-youngest player to win the county championship in more than 95 years when he claimed the Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup as an 18-year-old in 1989.

But he was killed in a tragic car accident in the New Forest that winter and Brokenhurst Manor replaced its annual scratch open – the Brokenhurst Bowl – in his honour from 1991.

Darren said: “When I was a member at Hayling I played a lot with Steve Richardson, the Ryder Cup player.

“Steve won the English Amateur in 1989 – but Mike beat him in our final to become county champion a few weeks earlier. I never forget Steve telling me just how good Mike was.

“He was an England Boys international, and was beating the men hands down that year, also winning the British Youths (U21).

“So to put my name on his trophy is a great feeling. Many of county’s great players over the last 30 years have won it, including Justin Rose, Matt Blackey and Richard Bland who all went on to win on the European Tour.”

The Mike Smith Memorial and the Stoneham Trophy form part of the Hampshire Order of Merit, which Walkley won in the first two years it was competed for after its launch in 2014.

Burden had to settle for second place for the second year in a row. Walkley finished in a share of seventh place at Stoneham 24 hours later after two rounds of 73, and was third in the Solent Salver.



Mike Smith Memorial winner

Mike Smith Memorial Trophy winner Darren Walkley, from Liphook GC, with Brokenhurst Manor captain David Pack (right). Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

error: Content is protected !!