Mike Smith reports from Alwoodley GC
Yorkshire teenager Ben Schmidt came of age when he became the youngest ever winner of the Brabazon Trophy. The 16-year-old from Rotherham beat an international field by five shots at Alwoodley, Leeds, pipping future major winners Sandy Lyle and Charl Schwartzel who were respectively 17 and 18 when they won the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play – one of the most sought-after titles in men’s amateur golf worldwide.
“Being the youngest makes it even more special,” said Schmidt, who was under par in all four rounds of the championship, scoring rounds of 69, 64, 69, 69.
“I’m just so pleased I got over the line, it takes a very long time to play the back nine when you’re in the lead!”
He is the second successive Yorkshire player to win the Brabazon, following Nick Poppleton’s success in 2018 – and the third in the last four years. Schmidt, who was cheered by the large partisan crowd, was embraced by tearful family members as he sealed victory with a par on the 18th, said: “This means so much. It’s nice to keep it in Yorkshire and it was awesome to see so many supporters, friends and family.
“I’m just so glad I managed to keep the lead from day two, that’s probably been the toughest part, but I got it done and it’s just amazing!”
Whilst the scoreline might look emphatic Schmidt was locked in a duel with Harry Hall from West Cornwall who had set a new course record of 63 in the third round. That left Hall at 10-under and one behind Schmidt, leaving them to fight out what effectively became a matchplay contest because they were so far clear of the chasing pack. This was a real David versus Goliath affair between the Will-o’-the- wisp walking one-iron Schmidt, and Hall, an imposing figure at 6’3” and built like a Truro second rower.
Hall only arrived back in England two days before the Brabazon started after graduating from the University of Las Vegas where his scoring average over four years was an impressive 71.98, the sixth best in the programme’s history. Hall, 21, made a blistering start, with two birdies in the first three holes to overtake Schmidt. But the teenager took the lead again when he holed a 25-footer for birdie on the fifth, while his rival bogeyed the hole. The players were back on level terms after Schmidt bogeyed the short ninth with an uncharacteristic three-putt, after waiting an age for Hall to get it up and down with his impressive short game.
Throughout the round Hall did little to promote England Golf’s initiative of ‘Play Ready Golf’ which was emblazoned on every tee sign, and on the front nine regularly exceeded the guideline of 60 seconds for hitting a shot. It looked like he was trying to slow down the laconic Schmidt, who plays at an encouragingly quick pace, but the lad from Tankersley was having none of it.
With only a shot separating them Schmidt had already played his second to the 13th when Hall was still ambling up to his ball – still 30 yards away from where his drive had finished. Schmidt then putted out of turn after Hall had offered a ‘go if you are ready’ invitation. Both made pars as they did on the 14th where Hall’s short game once again came to the rescue, but Schmidt then absolutely smoked his drive on the hardest hole on the course giving him an 80 yard advantage over Hall’s safety play iron. The big Cornishman missed left and couldn’t save par and when he followed it with an errant drive on 16 which led to a bogey, Schmidt had a three shot lead with two to play with after another superb tee shot.
Former Yorkshire secretary Keith Dowswell was following the game and had little doubt that Schmidt would get the job done over the closing holes. “Ben has ice in his veins, always has had.
“And he’s a very smart player. Even when he was younger coming through the ranks, he always knew where to put the ball, never short siding himself.”
He played the difficult back nine in two-under par, while Hall dropped three shots over the closing holes and that was the difference.
“I played the back nine really well,” said Schmidt, who was making his first appearance in the Brabazon. “Those last five or six holes are really tough and I didn’t do any damage, I hit the centre of the greens and gave myself chances with the putts.”
Ben Firth from Wike Ridge also enjoyed the best performance of his career by finishing fourth on 280 after a closing 69 while Fulford’s Charlie Thornton finished seventh two shots further back.
Schmidt, a member of the England boys’ squad, also won the George Henriques Salver awarded to the leading GB&I player aged under 20 to cap a tremendous performance.
The day belonged to Schmidt but don’t forget the name Wilco Neinaber – Alwoodley’s opening holes won’t after the 19-year-old South African brought the uphill 305 yard par 4 with a semi-blind tee shot to its knees with a 2-iron to 12’ and then reduced the 514 yard third and 479 yard fourth to a drive and a wedge. This kid is a superstar in the making and is set to be one of the longest hitters in professional golf when he joins the paid ranks later this year.
Beaten in a play-off in this event last year by Yorkshire’s Nick Poppleton, he generates a ball speed of 198 mph and during this year’s Qatar Masters blasted one drive an incredible 436 yards – more than 50 yards past the next best. He finished down the field tied 28th at Alwoodley but is set for the brightest of futures.