Handy’s making the grade

Chris Handy tells Dean Bailey about winning back-to-back Durham County Strokeplay Championships, playing college golf in the US and his plan to make it to the top of the game

There seems to be something about long haul flights home which suits Chris Handy better than just about any golfer on the planet. Just days after returning to the UK from college in the US, Chris joined an elite list of players to have won back-to-back Durham County Strokeplay titles.

“It’s a nice thing to have on the CV, there aren’t many players who have successfully defended the title in Durham and I’m very proud to have done it,” says Chris

“It’s a tough weekend with four rounds over the three days but it also gave me a chance to get back into it on Sunday,” adds Chris – who shot rounds of 74, 70, 69 and 67 at Billingham Golf Club to finish three shots clear of Thomas Harbord and win the Durham County Strokeplay Championship sponsored by Cottages.com.

“I went to the range with my dad following the second round and we had a good chat down there. Everything clicked into place and I played a lot better on Sunday to shoot my best two scores. I made birdies at six, seven and eight to get to four under-par in the last round and that was a big turning point. I knew I’d taken the lead then, I was just holing every putt I looked at. I felt good for the rest of the round, birdied the toughest holes on the course at 11 and 12 and I knew no-one could catch me.”

Though the county roll of honour shows Chris has been the best player over 72 holes in consecutive years, it doesn’t show the work he has put in over the last 12 months and the step forward he has made with coach Andrew Nicholson.

“Last summer, even though I won the county championship, my game wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I had far too many bad shots in my system, which would come out under pressure and I needed to take some time to work on those. We worked really hard on the range to get rid of that big miss left, tighten things up and be ready to go when I was back in the US.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. People were really worried after a month but I stuck with it, understood it was a long process and by the time I got to America I was ready to go. It was a tough decision but I definitely got it right.”

While he has found success at home, Chris’ last season at Oakland University in Michigan, where he is studying finance, also brought rewards.

Though his Golden Grizzlies team failed to make the NCAA Regionals despite being ranked first in their conference going into the qualifying event, Chris has posted rounds in the low 60s, been part of the team to break the school’s scoring record twice and broken the individual scoring record for the school this season in an event at Notre Dame.

“From being a junior I’d wanted to go out to the US and be a college player. I managed to settle in pretty quickly, represented the college a lot as a freshman, which was a great start. I’m really happy with how things have gone in the last year too,” he says.

“My performances have improved a lot, I’m doing really well in school with a 3.7 GPA (grade point average equivalent to an A in the UK) and I can’t wait to go back. I love spending time with my teammates, we’ve got a close knit group and our coach Nick Pumford is a great guy.”

Back home Chris ‘schedule this summer is relatively light – a conscious decision having come back from a packed spring semester in the US and knowing there is a lot of golf ahead on his return in September.

He’ll be heading to Local Qualifying for the Open Championship, the English Amateur and local and regional events while representing South Moor at club level and Durham at county level.

“This summer was always going to be a real off season. With the county championship win I’ve got a lot of confidence and I’ve got a few things to look forward to but it’s really important to balance competitive golf with having a rest. College is where I need to perform and play my best golf so that’s where I need to be refreshed and ready to go.”

There are a lot of people Chris mentions and thanks throughout our conversation. His mum and dad, James and Anne, who travelled the country with him as a junior and supported his ambition to go to the US, and his older brother Michael, as well as clubmates from South Moor and his county teammates.

“It all started with my dad and brother, and a set of plastic clubs in the house. My dad is a really good player; he represented the county and won everything apart from the county strokeplay when he was younger. Without my dad and my mum I wouldn’t have had the chance to do anything I’ve done on the golf course.

“I’ve worked with Andrew Nicholson since I was a junior and he’s really made me into a good player. He’s inspired me to work hard and helped me so much with my swing for years – his influence on me has been massive and I can’t thank him enough either.

“There are also all the people at South Moor and Wynyard who support me, and there are all the guys in the county team who took me in as a kid and gave me people to look up to when I was younger. The Durham Union has always been a huge help throughout my golf career too and I can’t thank them enough.

“All these people have been really important as I’ve grown up in golf. It’s a little bit sad when you move up and can’t play as much golf with these guys but they understand it and it’s great to have so many people supporting you,” adds Chris.

That list of people may well be set to grow further as Chris returns to the US for two more years in college before, with some luck, he turns professional.

“College is my priority right now. We want to win a team title this coming year and I’d like to get an individual title under my belt. After that I haven’t got any firm plans.

“I want to see where my game is after four years in the US and I’ll definitely give turning professional a go. I really enjoy business too though so I’ve got good options once I finish college.”

Right now there’s no need to rush, there’s a long summer to enjoy at home before anything else.