The 2018 league season drew to a close for the 2nds with a tough away match versus top of the table Derbyshire at Erewash Valley Golf Club. In our previous match in August, we had defeated the then leaders Nottinghamshire. Therefore, despite our poor start to the season we were still to play a large part in deciding the destination of this year’s 2ndleague winner trophy.
Once again, we had seen a few late changes as players became unavailable for both the 1sts and 2nds, but with all 10 players present and correct at the course on a beautifully sunny morning, the match got underway.
Leading us out in the foursomes was Ryan James (Nuneaton) and Chris Leonard (Hearsall). They would be 3 down early on, their opponents impressing with 2 twos on Erewash’s infamous back to back quarry par 3s.
Battling hard they had reduced the deficit but stood on the 17thtee dormie 2 down. However, a great birdie on the tough 17thand a solid par on the par 3 last was enough to get a valuable half point for Warwickshire. A great fightback.
In the second match, we had the all Handsworth pairing of Karl Smith, a stalwart of more seasons than I can remember and a debut in the 2nds for Rhys Wallace whose golf over the last few months has been exceptional in competitions and junior matches.
This game ebbed and flowed, Warwickshire taking an early lead only to be pegged back to be 3 down after 9. Fighting hard Warwickshire got right back in the match and a 30+ foot putt slam dunked by Karl on 16 got us 1up. They would carry this lead all the way to 18 and a full point looked probable with the Derbyshire team left with a 20 footer for a required birdie. With a great putt, they duly obliged and another halved match resulted. Two games – two halves. This was showing all the signs of a close fixture…
In the third game, we saw debut’s for two very talented golfers from Harborne Golf Club, Stephen Keay and Anthony Wilkes. Neither had played the course but this didn’t stop them stamping their authority on this match early with some quality golf and birdies. 1up through 9, they played controlled golf through the tough start to the back half to be dormie 2 up standing on the 17th. Stephen hit a great 4 iron off the tee on this tight par 4 and split the fairway, only for the ball to end up in an extremely deep divot. With the approach to the green over water and with Derbyshire pair on the green already Anthony played an absolute cracker, somehow gouging it out of the pothole it was in to within 10 feet. An amazing shot and one that would seal the win for Warwickshire 2 & 1.
Next in match 4 was Chris Staite (Robin Hood) and Karl Mason (Stratford Oaks). Having played well together in an earlier match this season they continued right where they left off and got off to a quick start to be 3 up after 9. More good golf on the tricky holes round the turn sealed the deal and they would run out impressive 5 & 4 winners. As a Captain, it is always nice to hear that a pairing are in the clubhouse with a point before you realise. Great win.
In match 5 we had once again called on the services of Nev Gardner (Stoneleigh) and he was playing with Jacob Parsons (The Warwickshire) who is another Warwickshire junior playing great golf.
Warwickshire would seemingly be in control of this match, leading pretty much throughout. But the tough holes on the back 9 would take their toll and a missed short putt and loose shot here and there added to timely birdies from their opponents would see a 3 up lead disappear and eventually end in a 2 & 1 defeat.
So a roller coaster of a foursomes session was over and the score line was a 3 – 2 lead for Warwickshire. Neither the Derbyshire captain nor I could decide if we were happy or not with that score line. It was a very funny conversation we shared. We did however both agree the singles was going to very interesting.
Ryan James led the team out and it’s a role I’ve asked him to do for us several times this year. He is one of the most determined players I know. Even if not on his game, he somehow finds a way to compete and get things done.
This match was no exception, appearing to be hanging on a bit due to some good golf from his opponent Ryan was down early on and then with a great up and down on 9 remained just the one down. Observing from a distance, it looked like the match was getting away from Ryan. However, he had in fact fought his way back to be all square through 16. With events, unfolding on the course that we will get to shortly, this match by this point had become key already. Summoning another gear from somewhere, Ryan then finished with two holes played to perfection to gain a 1 up win and such a key point for us. Class and courage. Well done.
In match 2 Chris Staite was on the receiving end of some great golf from Jack Marron of Derbyshire, with Jack making the turn in just 31 shots. Chris battled hard but would run out of holes, losing 4 & 3.
Anthony Wilkes at number 3 was in a tight battle and playing some very good golf, this was being matched by his opponent, several holes being halved in birdies. By the 15thAnthony was 2 down and going for broke on 17 it wasn’t to be and he would lose out 3 & 1. A great debut and a strong golfer we will be seeing more of next season.
Chris Leonard was playing at 4 and Chris fought hard all afternoon but would seemingly be always just one or two behind. Back to 1 down and fighting back, a ridiculously unlucky bounce on the tough par 3 14thmeant another lost hole and then there was just too much to do. Eventually losing 3 & 2.
So the first 4 matches had gone 3 – 1 in Derbyshire’s favour. This highlighting how important Ryan’s initial point was becoming. The match was feeling like it was beginning to drift away.
Rhys at 5 was battling hard against a tough opponent. Rhys would get an early 1 up lead but some strong play from his opponent round the turn would see Rhys fall 2 behind. A quality iron shot into the tough par 3 14thgot the score back to just the 1 down. My plea on the 15thtee to “try and get something out the match” was answered by great play from Rhys on 15 and 16, but his opponent wasn’t going anywhere and looked almost impossible to breakdown. Rhys got the breakthrough on the 17th to level and showed huge courage to secure a massive half point for us on 18 with a composed finish. Unbeaten on his 2ndteam debut and stress tested fully with two close halved matches. Great golf.
Stephen was playing in the 6thmatch and he would be 1 up through 14 and looking to just have the edge in a close match. The 1 up lead was retained until the 18thgreen, where already in for a good Par 3 Stephen and the teams watched on as Dan Walker holed his birdie putt from what must have been at least 30 feet. It was a phenomenal putt from Dan under the circumstances and obviously a tough break for Stephen who had played well all day. Still it was a great half point.
The Derbyshire cheer from behind the 18thgreen was the loudest I’ve heard this season – they knew a win in this fixture would give them the league title. The score was now 6-5 to Derbyshire.
Jacob was our 7thman and his opponent was demonstrating a short game masterclass. Jacob playing well was 1 down through 14 and still one down on the 17thwhen his opponent found the water in front of the 17thgreen. Jacob played a great approach – sensibly 15 or so feet on the safe side of the hole. Back from the dead, his opponent’s ball was only partially submerged in the lake, but was still 15 feet or so below ground level and sat on a rocky lake bed. Paul Ashby showing just how much Derbyshire did want this, stripped off and climbed down in the lake. At this point it seemed nothing more than a good photo opportunity, no sane person predicting what happened next. Paul took his stance and smashed at the ball. Stones, Mud, Water, everything was in motion. The ball appearing amidst the debris and rolling onto the green to about 10 foot. Not just shot of the day but almost certainly shot of the year. Jacob left his putt in the jaws and Paul then holed yet another putt for the most unlikely of pars and to retain his 1up lead. Jacob made a good par 3 at the last but Paul was not to be denied and a par of his own sealed his 1 up victory and Derbyshire were now 7 – 5 up. 1 point from any of the last 3 matches and the title was theirs.
A word for Jacob who played well in both sessions and fought so hard all day. As pleasing as his good golf was his congratulatory manner towards his opponent despite his own disappointment.
Therefore, it was over to Warwickshire “Home Guard” of Karl Smith, Karl Mason and Neville Gardner to decide the fate of the title. Not so much a reference to “Dads Army” but to the wealth of experience they share between them.
Karl Smith was playing the Derbyshire Captain and was in control of this match from start to finish. Controlling his ball superbly and avoiding the many trees of Erewash. He would close out his match with a superb 4 & 3 victory.
7 – 6 to Derbyshire.
Nev Gardner was playing in the anchor role of number 10 and once again, we required him to do the business as he has done so many times for the 2nds over the years. His disappointment from the morning foursomes gone, Nev’s putter and short game got hot and he played some great golf. Taking a lead and never relinquishing control. The 4 & 3 victory was just rewards and exactly what we needed.
7 – 7.
So all down to this – Karl Mason at number 9 was the last match on the course. A win would see Warwickshire claim this match and hand the title to Nottinghamshire. A loss and Derbyshire would be champions.
Karl was 2 up early in his match and had played steady par golf, keeping his ball in the fairways and avoiding mistakes. Still 2 up after the 14ththis was the last update I got from Karl. Both teams congregated behind the 17thgreen as we awaited the last match’s arrival. However, we should have been looking behind us in the bar. Karl had won the 15thand 16thto close his match out 4 & 2 and had walked in via the shortest route.
We had won the last three matches and Warwickshire had won by the narrowest of margins 8 – 7. A great away win for our team.
My thanks to Wayne and the entire Derbyshire team who were fierce opponents but equally friendly, engaging and showed a huge amount of class in the way they handled their disappointment.
Thank you to Erewash Valley Golf Club for presenting the course in great condition and for looking after us so well throughout the day.
Thanks to Bob Wallace (professional pro v finder) and John Duncombe for the support and “score finding out” throughout the day.
A special thank you goes to Karl Smith from all of us in the 2ndteam. This will be his last game representing the 2ndfor a while as he looks forward to take up his new role as County Captain in 2019.
Karl has been a stalwart and ambassador of the 2nds for as long as I can remember. He has won a massive 33 and a half points for Warwickshire since 2012 and his presence at our matches will be missed enormously. We all wish you every success and look forward to supporting you any way we can throughout your Captaincy.
So that wraps up the 2018 league season for the 2ndteam. Three early losses and two final wins, both against league leaders at the time. Best described as a mixed bag I feel.
Focussing on the positives. As always, we have an amazing team spirit. Even through our tough start, players kept smiling and fighting for every point. They never wavered and gave it their all. As the players know, match days I pretty much just walk around the course wise cracking – it’s you guys, the players, who really get the job done. Thank you all for the time and effort you invest.
We now have, in my opinion, closer ties with our junior teams than ever before. These will be our first and second team players for years to come. Who knows some might win even more points than Karl has. I look forward to supporting the great new leadership team in the junior sections in 2019 in any way I can.
Here’s to hoping that 2019 is a much fun as this season has been and that we can start where we have left off 2018.