TEENAGER Ben Schmidt entered Yorkshire golfing folklore when he snatched victory in the Lee Westwood Trophy at the second sudden-death extra hole.
Aged just 16, he became the youngest player to win the 72-hole tournament when his 10ft birdie putt dropped in front of a rapturous following at his home club Rotherham. It capped an afternoon of high drama that also included a new course record of eight-under-par 62 set by another local lad, Sam Rook, of Lindrick.
Schmidt started the final round three strokes ahead of his nearest rival Alex Ireland, from Brickhampton Court, thanks to three flawless opening rounds of 65, 66 and 70. His 65 included five back-to-back birdies from the start of the inward nine on day one.
Yet his Gloucestershire rival, who played to par or under in all four rounds, piled on the pressure on the final back nine where back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th gave him a commanding three-stroke lead.
Calamity then struck on the 15th where an inexplicable tee shot found the trees and the resulting triple bogey brought the match back to level, where it finished on the 18th. The real drama was to unfold on the sudden-death knock-out finale. Schmidt’s drive on the first play-off hole, the 10th, found the forest on the left.
He hacked out and hit his third way right of the green while his opponent cautiously hit a second shot 30 yards from the putting surface. His brilliant chip rolled and brushed the hole, leaving a tap in for birdie and seemingly the championship.
Schmidt, with nothing to lose, played his chip from 20 yards and, to the crowd’s astonishment, it dropped in for a half.
After victory on the next hole he hugged his dad Phil who was on his bag and burst into tears. “This is massive for me, I’m so proud, and I’m almost speechless,” he said. It has been a season of steady progress for Schmidt, who turned 16 in March.
His season started in style in May when he became Yorkshire Boys’ champion, winning at Malton & Norton on a second round countback. He was edged into runner-up spot by one stroke in the McGregor Trophy, awarded for the English Boys’ Open Championship in July at Kedleston Park, where he carded his previous competition best score of 67.
Last month the youngster starred in his debut for Yorkshire’s Northern Counties League team winning his foursomes and singles matches.
The Lee Westwood Trophy is one of England’s top amateur events. Officially known as The Rotherham Golf Club Open Strokeplay Championship, this annual World Amateur Golf Ranking PING/EGU order of merit 72-hole event is one of the region’s major highlights of the golfing season. Ryder Cup player Lee’s mum, Trish, presents the prizes. Past winners include European Tour Player David Horsey Gary Wolstenholme, Rotherham’s Sam Haywood and Wath’s Nick Poppleton.