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Henley Golf Club was the venue for the 2nd teams April friendly versus Northamptonshire and in the week prior to this match we had been kept fully up to date on the course conditions by the Henley course manager. The dry weather had been just the ticket and despite some very heavy thunderstorms in the area on the Saturday evening, the course was in fine condition for the match. Thanks to the mixture of both wet and warm weather, the rough was thick and finding the fairways was going to be crucial.
In advance, I need to thank the greens staff at Henley for the hard work they had put in, we are very grateful for all their efforts to present the course as well as they did.
The Warwickshire team originally selected for this match had been hit with injury and illness and four changes were required to personnel before match day. However, with more than capable reserves in place we set about tackling the challenge Northamptonshire posed.
Leading the way in the foursomes were Paul Walker and Gaz Greenway (Maxstoke Park). They do say that playing these guys together in a foursome is the sporting equivalent to playing Lampard and Gerrard together in the England midfield. However, it felt right given the revised team composition and so they had their chance to shine together once again. On the front nine Warwickshire had built a slender lead but the sparks flew on the back nine and it was only the 17th hole that was not birdied by one of the two teams on the way in. They stood all square on the par 5 last and both teams got close to the green in two. Gaz played a great pitch into about 8 feet and the Northamptonshire pair were just outside of them. They missed just on the low side, but with the flag precariously perched just below a tier, Paul had a tricky one for the win. He duly slotted it home for a one up win and the first point for Warwickshire.
Second pair in the foursomes were Chris Staite (Robin Hood) and Karl Mason (Stratford Oaks) and despite losing their ball off the tee on the first hole left (later found by me, which was a little annoying) this was a very close match with never more than a hole in it. Karl was really suffering with a terrible cough you could hear three fairways away but despite this he kept hitting quality shots. They got to the last all square but it was the Northamptonshire pair who had looked to have seized the initiative putting their approach into 10 feet with Warwickshire left with at least 40 feet down and across the tier. Karl made a fair attempt but it was still Warwickshire to play after his approach putt stopped just short of the slope. Chris however confidently rolled in a very tricky one to ask the question. They were soon to be rewarded when his opponent left the winning putt just short, albeit right in the centre. A great half point.
Third pair were the all Coventry GC partnership of Dan Launchbury and Ben Goodison. They play lots of golf together and know each other’s games really well. They got a lead early and never looked back running out impressive 4 & 3 winners.
Fourth pair of Mark Davies (Hearsall) and Dan Pearce (Maxstoke) were behind early having missed a few fairways and despite fighting hard couldn’t get themselves back into their match and eventually lost out 5 & 4.
The last foursome was Josh Davenport (Maxstoke) and Nev Gardner (Stoneleigh) and this game slowly ebbed away from the Warwickshire pair despite some good golf. They eventually lost out 3 & 2 to a resolute Northamptonshire pair.
So the foursomes session was shared at two and a half each and it was all to play for in the singles.
Karl for Warwickshire however was really not well by now and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying he sounded pretty awful at this point. I was keen for him to rest and not play the singles but in true testament to his spirit and competitiveness, he insisted on giving the singles a go. Therefore, we had the full complement still in place for the singles to commence.
So to the singles matches,
Paul led us out and got off to a quick start turning at three up with a good birdie on nine, he pushed on and closed out his match 5 & 3.
Gaz Greenway had a fight on his hands and some quality golf from both players saw them get to the last with Gaz one up. Just short of the Par 5 in two Gaz played a pitch straight out the top drawer from a tough position to just a few feet. Winning two up with a great birdie.
Maximum points returned by Lampard and Gerrard in this match is just reward for how well they both played throughout the day. Well done on setting the tone in the top order.
Third out was Dan Launchbury and despite not being completely happy with his game all afternoon he still managed to get to the last at one down and showed great courage in making a fabulous birdie to escape with a valuable half point for the team.
Fourth out was Chris Staite, he was in a ding-dong battle with his opponent, and this was a high quality affair. Never more than a hole in it, Chris got to the last tee one up. His opponent played an exquisite approach from a tough angle into the last. Chris just missed his birdie and his opponent holed out for a birdie and a halved match.
Playing at five was Dan Pearce and every time I caught up with Dan in the afternoon, he was on the centre cut of the fairway. He played some great golf in his 3 & 2 victory and has taken the step from junior to men’s golf in his stride.
Playing six was Ben Goodison and again the news here was good (although Ben is sometimes a harsh critic on his own game so as a Captain looking at body language it’s impossible to tell if he’s actually winning or losing). Ben was five up at the turn and went on to close his match out 5 & 3. Maximum points Ben on the day – Well played.
Five points to this point for Warwickshire in the singles meant the match was halved at worst.
Josh was playing at number seven and as usual hitting the ball phenomenal distances. Witnessing the seven iron he hit from 220 yards downwind fly the green on the 12th was a stark reminder why I enjoy watching these matches rather than playing in them these days. More than just power hitting though Josh played great golf in his 2 & 1 win and our Junior captain is more than worthy of his spot in the team. Well played.
Now to Karl who as we know was bravely playing on despite clearly suffering and had also drawn the Northamptonshire Captain (previously a first teamer) for good measure. How he managed to play the way he did given the circumstances I have no idea, but Karl proceeded to play super solid golf in a 4 & 3 victory. Even writing this now, I’m a little lost for words to articulate fully the effort I witnessed, so what I will say is that Karl epitomises all the good things about our team ethos and spirit. Simply a fantastic effort. Get well soon.
Mark Davies was playing at nine and I had kept him back in the order should the match have been tight to this point. Mark got straight down to business and built up a four hole lead by the 12th. Eventually closing out the win 5 & 4.
In the anchor role was Nev and he was three up through the 12th but was pegged back by his determined opponent to be all square playing the last. With both teams watching on, Nev played his approach into about 25 feet, but he had left a tricky one down the tier. As Nev stalked the putt the team watching on discussed quietly how a two putt wouldn’t be a bad result and just how tricky a leave it was. Of course, Nev being Nev just holed it for the win, capping off what was a truly memorable afternoons performance by the team with a fantastic putt under pressure.
So with no defeats in the singles session, the points had gone in Warwickshire’s favour 9 – 1. It was a simply fabulous effort in tough conditions and ensured an 11.5 to 3.5 overall match victory.
For me, this result highlights the quality in depth we have to call on in Warwickshire. I am so very fortunate to have so much talent available and the willingness for reserve players to make themselves available, despite not always gaining a direct selection or getting a start.
Thank you to Chris and his Northamptonshire team for the match, which contained plenty of good golf and was played in great spirits. We wish you every success in the 2018 season.
A thank you again to The Henley for allowing us the use of the facilities and for all the hard work to get the course into the condition it was despite the wet weather.
My personal thanks to Matt for acting as starter and photographer, to Robin Brennan and Bob Harrison for their ball-spotting prowess and to Chris Leonard, Ant Gascoigne and John Mayell for their on course support.
All part of the team and all playing their part in a successful day for Warwickshire.