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Women back on top

Woodsome Hall’s Nicola Slater kept her nerve to seal victory for Yorkshire in the English Women’s County Championship at Felixstowe Ferry.

They beat Gloucestershire 5-4 in a nail-biting finale which was only decided by the last putt on the last green.

County girls’ champion Slater rolled her ball from behind the green to within six inches of the cup to confirm her 1up win and Yorkshire’s victory – and the celebrations began as her team-mates bowled her over.

Olivia Winning cradled the trophy and remarked: “This is the only one I’ve ever wanted, I’d give up all my other wins for this.”

That’s some statement from an international who has twice won the Scottish Open title and helped England to European gold.

This was the second year in a row that the two teams had met in the title decider. Last season Gloucestershire came out on top, claiming their first win in the championship. This time it was Yorkshire’s year and their 13th victory.

Going in to the final day of play Gloucestershire had a slight advantage, having won all four of their matches earlier this week. Yorkshire had scored three wins before being wrong-footed by Buckinghamshire on the penultimate day and held to a half.

As the foursomes unfolded, the advantage stayed with Gloucestershire who went in to lunch 2-1 up – helped by a hole in one on the 12th from Caley McGinty.

As the singles got underway it was Gloucestershire again who forged ahead over the opening holes, but Yorkshire coach Steve Robinson was undismayed, remarking: “You’ve got to be able to take a punch.”

He had told his team to be sure they didn’t go home without giving it their all – and he was soon rewarded. Hannah Holden, who clearly remembered the disappointment of last year’s defeat and was determined not to re-live it, scored the first point. She was five under par when she won 6/5, having birdied 4, 5, 7, 10 and 12.

Rotherham’s Winning, who had been two down after six, holed a monster putt on the 8th, gathered a crop of birdies, knocked her wedge to 2ft on the 15th and won 4/3. Then it was blow for blow.

Gloucestershire’s Alex Giles struck back with her 2/1 win, putting the two teams back on level terms. Almost immediately Megan Lockett (Huddersfield) also won 2/1 and put Yorkshire ahead again. Caley McGinty held on tight for Gloucestershire, defeating Selby’s Mia Eales-Smith 2-up in a game which featured two players whose combined age was just 30!

The teams had four points apiece and everything hinged on the final game between Yorkshire’s Slater and Gloucestershire’s Alex Saunders. They were all square with three holes to play but crucially Slater won the par three 16th after Saunders’ putt lipped out.

They halved the 17th in birdie and then, adrenalin pumping, both went through the back of the 18th in two. Saunders was further away but fashioned an exquisite chip to within six inches of the hole. Slater’s downhill putt from the fringe was also perfectly judged and rolled equally close. “It was just thinking don’t hit it long,” she remarked afterwards.

Yorkshire team captain Fran Dickson paid tribute to her players: “I just think they are amazing young people with great talent.”

The title holders Gloucestershire sent out a clear message when they launched their defence with an 8-1 win over hosts, Suffolk, on day one, but Yorkshire went one better trouncing Hampshire 9-0.

Selby’s Mia Eales-Smith rounded off the whitewash when she eagled the 17th to win 2/1. “She’s our pocket rocket and a very determined young lady,” said Dickson.

“There were some close times in this morning’s foursomes, the scoreline doesn’t always tell the story, but they’ve been amazing in the singles. They have played very well and consistently.

“But it’s early days and each day is a challenge. They are well aware of that and that nothing is easy,” Dickson warned as day one closed.

With Dickson’s words ringing in their ears Yorkshire continued in dominant style on day two, although they did concede a half point in the morning foursomes against Nottinghamshire.

Coach Robinson fine-tuned his team’s putting with a lunchtime session and they returned to the course to dominate the singles.

Winning and Charlotte Heath (Woodsome Hall) both produced comfortable 4/3 wins, but elsewhere the team was proving how good they are at finishing off. Lockett won the top game on the 18th, in a match where she birdied four out of five holes and her opponent Lauren Spray had three in five holes.

Selby’s Megan Garland got ahead early on with a birdie on the 7th and an eagle on the 8th, where she holed a putt the full length of the green. After 15 she was dormy three up, but her opponent Rachel Boulton took her to the last to earn her point.

Then Gloucestershire and Yorkshire tightened their grip on the top of the leaderboard when both teams notched up big wins including a victory for the Tykes over the hosts Suffolk, 7.5-1.5.

In the singles, played in a steadily strengthening wind, Yorkshire were all but invincible. Lockett got ahead early on, was pulled back to all square after nine, but pushed on strongly on the back nine and posted the first point with her 3/2 win.

She was soon followed by Slater, whose 5/4 win earned her the team’s prized chocolate award for the best score of the afternoon. Heath provided the team’s winning point when she won 3/2 after a game which featured plenty of birdies from both players.

The wins kept on coming as Huddersfield’s third member of the team Hannah Holden signed off with a birdie for her 4/2 success and Eales-Smith won on the 17th. Finally, Winning maintained the unbeaten singles standard. She had trailed Suffolk’s Lottie Whyman but she pulled it back to all square with a birdie on 17 and they halved with pars on the last.

Day four saw Buckinghamshire produce the surprise result of the week in holding Yorkshire to a draw. After sharing the spoils in the morning foursomes both teams came out with great determination. Winning scored first for Yorkshire and Lockett earned her second point of the day.

Then it was blow for blow before Eales-Smith, a remarkably composed 14-year-old, made a textbook par to win the game for Yorkshire and confirm the halved result.

Afterwards Robinson was quick to compliment their opponents: “Hats off to Buckinghamshire,” he said, while Dickson focussed on the following day’s challenge. “This isn’t a setback, we have still got to beat Gloucestershire, that’s the bottom line,” she said.

And so they did.

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