Northumberland produced a barnstorming finish to win the English Boys’ County Finals by the narrowest of margins from Essex.
On a day when all four counties – Northumberland, Essex, Leicestershire & Rutland and Gloucestershire – entered the final series in the round robin event with a chance of victory, it was the northern qualifiers who stepped up to the plate.
Northumberland’s 6-3 victory over Gloucestershire was followed up by Essex defeating Leicestershire & Rutland by a margin of 5-4.
That left Northumberland and Essex with two wins out of three – the trophy being decided on the number of game points won over the course of three days. By that calculation, Northumberland took 14.5 game points compared to Essex’s tally of 13.5 and claimed their maiden win at the English Boys’ County Finals.
Gloucestershire finished third by virtue of scoring more game points than Leicestershire and Rutland.
Northumberland can point to four key games of singles on the final day tipping the balance in their favour. Knowing that they needed to win the top four singles games to stand a chance (the last two singles matches heading Gloucestershire’s way by some margin), Northumberland showed both skill and nerve to get over the line.
All four games were won on the 18th green – and the manner of victory as much as the win itself left team captain Phil Ridden proud as punch.
“The shots those four lads hit under the greatest pressure they’ve faced showed character,” he confirmed. “All four hit the par five in two shots to seal their games – it’s unbelievable. You expect someone might hit a bad shot under the pressure, but they all stood up to the plate and hit the best shots of their lives. I’m over the moon for the nine lads – seven in the team and two reserves. I’m happy for everyone in Northumberland. It’s been a great day and a great fightback.”
Northumberland started the week with a win against Essex before falling to Leicestershire and Rutland.
On the final day they took the morning foursomes against Gloucestershire by a 2-1 margin and needed one big push in the six afternoon singles to not only win but win well in case the title was decided by game points.
Northumberland’s Morgan Blyth was first over the line in the singles having taken a one hole lead up the last and secured the win against Josh Millington thanks to a birdie four. Angus Buchanan followed that by winning his game with another birdie – this time Louis Ross was on the wrong end of a one-hole deficit. Suddenly, Northumberland were on a roll and Harrison Sewell – who knew he had to win and was all square with three holes to play – birdied the 16th and then secured the point with two straight pars.
Northumberland were by now assured of the match win, but they knew more game points were required. That made James Conn’s encounter with Ashley Millington vital to the overall picture. The game had ebbed and flowed from the start but going into the back nine Millington was three holes clear. Yet by the 13th the game was tied and after four holes were shared with pars, it all came down to the par five, 18th. Conn made the green in two blows and two putts for birdie was enough to secure the point that gave his team a chance of victory with the Essex and Leicestershire & Rutland match following on behind.
In the end it all came down to Essex’s ability to win their match by scoring 6.5 points or better from the nine available. Earlier in the week they had bounced back from defeat to Northumberland by beating Gloucestershire. Having won the morning foursomes on the final day 3-0 and started the singles strongly, they were eyeing victory. However, with three games on a knife-edge, Leicestershire and Rutland fought back. Although Essex won the match 5-4 it was not by a big enough margin to outscore Northumberland over the course of the three days.
After celebrating with his teammates, Morgan spoke for the Northumberland boys when he said: “Everyone is obviously buzzing. There’s been a lot of hard work behind the scenes and to do it with clutch shots is fantastic. None of us can stop smiling. We said before the singles that if we won four of the six we’d have a chance. I just tried to win my match and see what happens from there. For a county with not that many clubs and a small budget it’s a great achievement and everyone is just so happy.”
Phil echoed his player’s thoughts and now must think about winning the Men’s County Finals when he has to hit shots as part of the Northumberland team heading for Remedy Oak next month. “I’m not too fussed about the men’s event now!” he joked. “That’s not quite true – I’m going to Remedy Oak for the Men’s Finals and hopefully we can have the same result at the end of the week.”
Day One: Northumberland 5.5-3.5 Essex, Gloucestershire 6-3 Leicestershire and Rutland
Day Two: Leicestershire and Rutland 6-3 Northumberland, Essex 5-4 Gloucestershire
Day Three: Gloucestershire 3-6 Northumberland, Essex 5-4 Leicestershire and Rutland
Pictured: Northumberland’s winning team (Credit – Leaderboard Photography)