A bright sunny morning greeted the second team as they made the trip to play Leicestershire and Rutland at Longcliffe Golf Club. All the players arrived in good time (remembering the clocks had gone forward) and after a brief warm up we were ready to begin our 2018 campaign.
Longcliffe looked in fantastic shape and the greens, although a little soft, were fast enough to make the contours interesting.
Leading the way in the foursomes were the Maxstoke pairing of Gaz Greenway and Josh Davenport. Level par through seven holes was only good enough for them to be three down and Leicestershire’s top pair just kept firing in the birdies around the turn, eventually running out 6 & 4 winners.
The second match saw Ryan James (Nuneaton) and Mason West (Maxstoke) team up and they played great golf straight from the off, but this was being matched at every step by the Leicestershire pair. All square standing on 17th tee Mason fired one straight down the centre and the Leicestershire pair, turning one slightly down the left rough, lost their ball despite a search party of about 20 spectators spending the full five minutes.
Returning to the tee, Leicestershire made a brave bogey six. Which when an unfortunate bounce cost Warwickshire a chance at par, kept the game all square with one to play. Fair play to Ryan and Mason, despite the setback of the previous hole they played the last impeccably and a Leicestershire bogey allowed them to close out a great one up win.
Third out was the pair of Chris Staite (Robin Hood) and Stephen Harriman (Nuneaton) who in my opinion at least have very similar games and attitude; they seemed a perfect pairing on paper. They proved me right (good lads) as they played some great stuff. Tough opposition again here though and there was only ever one hole between the teams early on. It took Stephen to hole a pitch on 14 for an eagle two off a great drive by Chris to give them a two hole advantage they would never relinquish running out 2 and 1 victors.
Fourth Pair was another all Maxstoke pairing, this time the ever reliable Paul Walker with Dan Pearce, a promising youngster from the Team Warwickshire production line. Good solid golf got them to the 17th dormie two up and just when the match seemed sewn up the Leicestershire pair holed a monster putt from off the green for birdie, sending the match down the last.
Dan stood tall and bombed one down the middle and Paul then played a divine pitch sealing the match 1up.
Another key hole going the way of Team Warwickshire.
Last but not least in the foursomes saw Dean Sparrow (Kenilworth) pair up with Ben Goodison (Coventry) and they set about their no nonsense fairways and greens golf. Another close match ensued with Ben and Dean both holing key putts on the back nine to keep themselves just in front. They were shortly rewarded with a 2 & 1 victory and Warwickshire had won the foursomes 4 -1.
My lunch tasted lovely as I pondered how well the team had closed out the tight finishes under the pressure. Not yet realising quite how many more tight finishes were still to come.
After a quick turnaround, Ryan led the team out in the singles and played some fantastic golf against a very strong opponent. Yet again, there were birdies galore but Ryan would not be denied and dug deep to get the match to 18 with a great birdie on 17. This with a greenside pitch from a position I had already written off as completely dead.
Pumped, Ryan then proceeded to make another great birdie on 18 to bring home the full point for Warwickshire. Top quality golf from Ryan and a maximum return on the day.
Mason playing at number two was not to be outdone by Ryan and he withstood some great golf from his opponent to also get to the last tee all square. He confidently smashed his drive down the middle and another Warwickshire birdie on the last under great pressure gave us yet another one up win.
Another maximum return from the day and great to see Mason playing so well, great stuff.
At this point 17 and 18 were quickly becoming my favourite golf holes of all time…
Josh played three and by his own admission, his iron play was hurting him most the day. However, from three down at the turn he fought his tail off to get his game down the last at one down. The birdie he needed just slipped by, but the determination on display was a pleasure to see and he was straight out supporting his teammates.
Showing the same fight was Gaz Greenway who was four down after eight and not having the best day on the greens to that point. He had the strength of character to make three late birdies on the way home to get a vital half point for Warwickshire.
Chris Staite was next and he was playing super solid golf and always looked in control in his match. He duly obliged with a birdie burst around the turn and went on to close out his game 3 & 2. Great play Chris – another maximum return on the day.
This gave Warwickshire a guaranteed draw with 7.5 points in the bank, but the five remaining matches out on the course were all very tight.
Stephen Harriman just could not get the putter warmed up in the afternoon, but still fighting away when at two down with two to play made a great birdie on 17 to seemingly extend his match, only for his opponent to play an amazing pitch to win 2 & 1. Great fight again, right to the end.
Dan Pearce then had a similar fate, two down with two to play he also birdied 17 only for his opponent to make a 20 footer to close the door. Dan has massive potential and is a great asset to the team. Well played.
Ben Goodison unfortunately succumbed to his opponent 3 and 2, despite four of his own birdies in the round. He got the opponent who does everything right and Ben could well have won had he played in another position given the quality of the golf I saw.
So now, only the last two matches remained for our needed winning half point and so it was over to Dean Sparrow and Paul Walker to deliver. I am sure they will not mind me defining them as seasoned competitors and I had kept them down the order should we end up in this kind of situation.
With the squad watching on Dean came up the par five 17th 1 up and from the fairway wisely laid up short of the cross bunkers in what was a very clever play. His opponent, forced into going for it found the gorse and the match was Dean’s 2 & 1, confirming Warwickshire’s victory. Maximum points for Dean on his county debut. Fully deserved – well done.
With the whole squad still out on the 17th fairway (and my blood pressure finally returning to somewhere normal) we decided to tell Paul with serious faces that we still needed a point from him to ensure victory. Paul was one down, but in the middle of the 17th fairway in reach of the par 5 in two.
Paul hit an absolute stunner of a long iron into the green on the par five leaving only ten feet for eagle, winning him the hole. I would have called this the shot of the day. However on the 18th , when still thinking he had to win, Paul played a wedge to only two feet with his opponent already in quite close and holed out to finish birdie, birdie and win his game 1 up.
It really was very impressive Paul – great stuff. We even have a video of the winning putt, which is sure to be replayed (and recounted by Paul) for a while to come.
As you can tell from all the above, the final winning margin of 9.5 to 5.5 does not quite tell the full story of the closeness in quality of the teams in this match. A massive thank you to John and his Leicestershire team for what was a very close, competitive and high quality match. We wish you every success for the season ahead.
My sincere thanks to Neville and Bob for their help and support on the day and to Longcliffe Golf Club for providing us a fantastic venue. I have taken photos of the 17th and 18th, easily now my favourite holes in all of Leicestershire.
2nd Team Captain