Yorkshire are English Men’s County Champions for the 22nd time – snatching their victory by the tiny margin of half a game point at the end of three days’ intense competition at Aldeburgh Golf Club.
The final title showdown against Gloucestershire was a nail-biter which ended in a halved match and meant the destination of the trophy was decided by the number of game points won by the two teams.
Yorkshire triumphed with 16, to Gloucestershire’s 15.5. The Tykes amassed their precious advantage on the first day when they beat Lincolnshire 6.5-2.5 and captain Darryl Berry commented: “I knew that half point could matter!”
They followed up with a day two 5-4 win over BB&O, (Berks, Bucks and Oxon), while Gloucestershire also won both their opening matches, to set up a final day grand finale. It was tight from the word go, with the morning foursomes shared after a fighting performance from Gloucestershire, who at one point were down in all three games.
Malton & Norton’s David Hague and Ben Hutchinson (Howley Hall) sped off to post Yorkshire’s first point, playing two-under par to win 6/5. Hutchinson had made a mad dash to join his team mates from the European Tour stage one qualifying school at Frilford Heath where he had grabbed the last spot to make it through to the next stage.
Hague was quickly off the blocks again when he led out the singles on a chilly afternoon. He was five-up on England team-mate Mitch Waite after nine holes and went on to win 4/3 to edge Yorkshire ahead.
West countryman Joe Harvey put the two teams back on level footing when he won 3/2 – and from then on, the tension ramped up, with plenty of cheers ringing around the superb course.
Gloucestershire’s Joe Long won an epic battle against fellow England player Bailey Gill (Lindrick), when he holed a 10ft birdie putt on the 18th. Yorkshire’s Sam Bairstow withstood a determined challenge from Nick Day over the closing holes but held grimly on to his lead to win 1 up.
The final two games both fell one to each team, with Gloucestershire’s Jake Phillips winning 2/1 while 16-year-old Ben Schmidt from Rotherham, playing at the end of the order, won 3/2.
The result is a special double for Schmidt – and for Yorkshire – for the teenager was also a member of the winning team at English Boys’ County Championship earlier this season.
Berry summed up for his team when he said: “I’m so proud of them. People don’t understand how hard this is, it’s an endurance test as well as golf. But they have got their reward and that’s all that matters.”
The opening day saw Yorkshire beat Lincolnshire 6.5-2.5 in an intriguing encounter. All of the Lincolnshire players work and play golf in their spare time and only one of the Yorkshire players has a full-time job. He’s Lewis Hollingworth, a PE teacher at Maltby Academy, Rotherham – and he played a key role in the victory.
Hollingworth, playing in his first County Finals, teamed up with Sam Bairstow to give Yorkshire a 2-1 lead after the morning foursomes. In the singles it fell to Hollingworth to take the team over the winning line on the 14th with his 5/4 win. “Darryl (team captain) said on the 13th tee that we were looking all right, but that if I could get over the line it would be good,” said Hollingworth, who duly obeyed orders with a pair of pars.
The Yorkshire total was further boosted by Bairstow, who won 3/1 and by Rook, the county champion, who halved his game.
Yorkshire captain Darryl Berry had enormous confidence in his players’ ability in the singles – although the big names in his team mean they’re always a target. “We have a lot of players who would be big scalps for other teams, but I’m always confident they will win. It helps for us to have those players because the whole team bounce off each other,” he said.
On day two it was Schmidt who pulled off a great comeback to give Yorkshire their second win.
His hard-fought point gave the Northerners a 5-4 win over BB&O (Berks, Bucks & Oxon) while Gloucestershire defeated Lincolnshire 6-3, also for their second match win of the tournament.
Yorkshire started the afternoon in style, with Hague playing nicely under par to defeat England team-mate David Langley by 3/2. Gill, yet another England player from Yorkshire, added his point to Yorkshire’s tally on the 17th and took them to within touching distance of the win. But the team had to withstand a determined BB&O onslaught before they could get over the line.
First Tim Shin came back from 2 down after 12 to win on the last green, after a low scoring game in which the players notched up seven birdies between them. Then boy international Harrison Arnold broke through in a close match to win 3/1 – and the two counties were level-pegging with four game points apiece.
In the final game, Yorkshire’s Schmidt trailed Adam Birdseye over the opening holes and was three down after nine.
“I lost both my matches yesterday and I went into the back nine thinking ‘I really don’t want to lose another one’,” said Schmidt. So, the 16-year-old blocked out the pressure, clawed his way back and was 1 up after 15 – only to put his second shot on 16 in the gorse. Back to all square.
A text book par on 17 was good enough to put him back in the lead, but he gave himself one more test before claiming his point. His long approach putt on 18 went 6ft past the hole and left him a nerve-tingling downhill, breaking putt - but he slotted it straight in for the win, to cheers from his team supporters. “It was nice to make that,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed today.”
Yorkshire captain Darryl Berry remarked: “He (Schmidt) was out to prove a point, he wanted his point and I knew he would dig in for us."
And that doggedness saw the Tykes through in the end.