Archive for September, 2008

Everything for the team, or?

This weekend saw the top counties in England come together in the County Finals. The normally very difficult to beat Yorkshire were not there this year, as they failed to qualify. Instead Lancashire and Leicestershire & Rutland went head to head on the last day at Hollinwell. In the end, Lancashire proved the strongest team and could return home with the trophy.

County Champions - Lancashire

County Champions - Lancashire

For as long as any golfer in England can remember County golf and the County Championships have been the backbone of English Amateur Golf. There are now several signs suggesting that this is starting to change and with the competitive programme of individual amateur golf, both nationally and internationally, being as congested as it is many counties are reporting difficulties attracting their players to the county fixtures, especially the league matches. What consequences could this have?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if county golf was to disappear then very shortly after that we would also see the death of elite golf, as we know it in England. Golf is an individual sport at the World Class end but in order to get there players need a lot of support and help. What we are seeing more and more of around the world are the individuals finding their own way with very strong backing of parents and a ‘micro system’ surrounding them with help and support. Those players will probably make it to realise their potential even without the collective system. The players without the money and the right connections who have not got the people with time on their hands to support them however will have absolutely no chance.  And as those players are still the vast majority of the players in the game we better find a very quick solution to how we can not just keep, but increase the interest of both counties and clubs in trying to develop good players. Is the answer to try and go back to where we were? Most probably not. Is there another answer out there somewhere? For sure! Let us just dig deep in our collective minds to try and find it! 

Back to normal

After a week experiencing what footballers experience every time they go on the pitch, as one of the Ryder Cup players put it, a number of the players from Valhalla last week are now back on the normal tour. Normal is perhaps not the right word though as this week’s tournament in the US is actually the Tour Championships, the great ‘finale’ of the Fed Ex Cup. I wonder what that is going to be like after the big happening last week. Will players be able to ‘reload’?

At the Belfry this week the European Tour is stopping for the Quinn Direct British Masters which is very well ran by ISM. Tommy Fleetwood, the recently crowned Champion of County Champions, has been given an invite and will be looking at testing his ability against some of the top European Tour players.

Yesterday the England Under 18 squad spent the day at the Belfry, courtesy of the European Tour, to watch and follow some of the previous England Internationals and learn about their preparation for en event. Rob Dinwiddie, Oliver Fisher, Ross McGowan, Paul Waring and Chris Wood all very kindly gave their time to share their experience and knowledge with the young England players.

England Retain Cup, Goddard Takes Individual Title

It threatened to be a close run thing but in the end England comfortably defended the Portugal Nations Cup on 25 under par, winning by six shots from the Portuguese hosts in second place. Luke Goddard added the icing to the cake by birdieing the final hole for a 14 under par total and snatching the individual title from Renier Saxton by one shot.

The day started in mixed fashion for the English team with a variety of fortunes down the first hole giving Luke an unlikely birdie 3, Jamie a fortunate par 4 and Sam a disastrous triple-bogey 7 when once again his ball did not mix well with a cart path, throwing it out of bounds into a villa on the right. This set the tone for all three players for the day but by the turn England had overturned the one shot deficit into a two shot lead, courtesy of a an opening 34 (-3) from Jamie and a 37 (Ev) from Luke.

Renier Saxton of Holland covered the front nine in 31 (-6) and at that point it looked like the dutch could be the closest threat but it was Portugal that came back at the English with Jamie´s playing partner Tiago Rodrigues pulling out an eagle at the 10th and following up with a birdie at the 11th. A dropped shot for Jamie on the 12th hole gave the Portuguese player a four shot swing on the opening holes of the back nine which increased to five following a further birdie at the 14th. However, Jamie kept his composure very well over the closing holes and when his birdie putt on the 15th dropped he followed it up with superb birdies on the 16th and 18th under pressure to reduce the deficit further, swinging the tournament in England´s favour.

Sam never recovered from the opening hole but kept his cool to get the better of his Portuguese playing partner which effectively assured an English victory in the event of a tie. However it wasn´t required as Luke played superb golf over the final nine holes returning a score of 31 (-5) that also gave him the individual title, with Renier Saxton failing to improve on his outward half.

The fireworks began at the par three 13th hole when Luke’s ball just evaded the cup for a hole-in-one, a shot he matched at the par three 15th hole when again his tee shot ended within tap-in range. A short missed eagle putt on the 16th was fortunately not costly for Luke who then made a fantastic up-and-down on the 17th for a par. Two solid long shots to the heart of the final green and two putts from the lower tier were enough for a birdie four and the English celebrations could then begin, both for the team and for Luke as the individual medallist.

The first congratulatory message received by the English team was from Eddie Pepperell, still recovering back at home from the virus that prevented him from joining his colleagues this week. We all hope Eddie will be back in good form soon and hopefully his name will be appearing on several England team sheets next season.

The three players present can now look forward to a break, this is Jamie´s final tournament for this season and he is due a rest that sounds like it is long overdue. My best wishes go to Sam and Luke in next months Eisenhower Trophy, they have defeated some big names this week and hopefully they can take the winning feeling over to Adelaide for more English success.

For final results click here.

Portugal Still Lead but it´s England´s Day

The hosts continue to lead the Portugal Nations Cup but it was England that turned in the best performance in round two, returning a team score of 134 (-12) courtesy of a pair of 67´s from Luke Goddard and Sam Hutsby. Jamie Abbott also improved on his first round score but he can consider himself unlucky in only returning a 72 (-1) when his golf deserved better.

All three England players covered the front nine in 34 (-3) strokes and Luke set the early pace, only a final green three-putt preventing him from equalling the course record of 66. His two round total of 137 leaves him in second place in the individual standings with one round remaining.

Jamie, following in the group behind, was well positioned to post a similar score but a curious incident on the 12th green (or more accurately over the 12th green!) rather spoilt the momentum he had built up. Following a well positioned tee-shot his short iron second looked set for the middle of the putting surface but the ball lodged itself in the branches of an overhanging tree and failed to reappear. Despite our best efforts to clamber up the trunk and into the foliage within the five minutes allowed it was impossible to locate and identify the ball and so he was forced to return to the middle of the fairway to play his fourth shot. The resultant double bogey returned his score to -1 from which he made no further progress.

Sam also suffered a stroke of ill fortune when his tee shot at the 9th hole rebounded from the cart path and into the water hazard far beyond but the resultant bogey did little to halt his progress as further birdies at the 10th, 14th and 15th progressed his score to -6 for the day. The par five 16th and 18th holes promised further birdies but despite being greenside at both he was forced into two putting on both occasions and his score remained at -6, replicating Luke´s earlier 67.

England are well positioned going into tomorrows final round, they now lie four shots ahead of Belgium in third place and only one adrift of Portugal in front, with Jose Maria Joia continuing his efforts to win the tournament single-handedly. His second round score of 67 was one shot worse than yesterday but he has a commanding four shot lead in the individual standings.

Portugal´s Day in the Sun

England have made a quiet start to the 2008 Portugal Nations Cup with Sam Hutsby (76), Luke Goddard (70) and Jamie Abbott (73) producing a team score of -3 for the opening round. It was a case of gritting their teeth and battling hard for the English threesome, only Luke Goddard´s opening nine holes of 34(-3) gave a true glimpse of the team´s potential. However, in a scoreline reminiscent of 2007, they remain in touch at just five shots off the pace.

Sam got off to a disastrous start and an eagle on the final hole was the best possible outcome on a day when his score could have been much higher. Jamie Abbott played well from tee to green but struggled with the pace of the putting surfaces in his round of level par and meanwhile Luke consolidated his front nine total with a string of steady scores over the closing holes.

The first day undoubtedly belongs to hosts Portugal who returned a team score of -8, remarkably without talisman Pedro Figueiredo who was forced to pull-out on the eve of the tournament with a bronchus infection. Jose Maria Joia was chiefly responsible for their low team score, he returned a 66 (-7) that sets the pace on the individual leaderboard by one from Dutchman Renier Saxton.

England lie in 6th place at the end of day one with France, Holland, Austria and Belgium sandwiched between them and the leaders Portugal but it remains a tight affair and the English threesome are confident they can make progress tomorrow after completing the first day without really getting out of third gear.

Portugal Sun Shining on Nations Cup

Mid-September it may be but that hasn´t stopped the temperature soaring in the Algarve for this weeks second edition of the Portugal Nations Cup. England set off in blistering midday sunshine for yesterdays first practice round over the Ocean Course here at Vale do Lobo and the golf promises to be just as hot with strong teams from several European countries vying for the title won last year by England.

Ireland must start as favourites this time round, after a string of fantastic summer performances. What a summer they have had; European Champions once again, Home Internationals holders in both mens and boys events, all spurred on by the achievements of Padraig Harrington in the professional game.  Defending Champion Shane Lowry leads their challenge with fellow Eisenhower team member Paul Cutler and young gun Alan Dunbar making up a strong threesome that lost out only on countback last year to England.

All four home countries are present with Scotland making their debut in the event. Palmer Cup and Home Internationals player Gordon Yates leads their team who will be hoping their first experience of Vale do Lobo is a memorable one. Wales could also challenge, Zac Gould being the most experienced team member in a young side.

Of the continental teams present, France catches the eye more than most. I had a close up view of Mathieu Bey at the international match between France and England and despite struggling a little with the putter this could be his week in conditions he will surely be comfortable with. Other individual stars on show include both British Amateur Champions, Renier Saxton for Holland (mens) and the highly impressive Pedro Figuiredo (boys) of Portugal. Both will need team support if they are to challenge for the main title.

As for England, the week threatened to start off disastrously with Eddie Pepperell falling victim to a virus on the eve of the flight to Faro. However, Sam Hutsby stepped into the breach at extremely short notice, he made it from the practice ground at Liphook to Gatwick Airport in about five hours, surely some sort of record for ‘last-minute´stand-ins.

Today (Wednesday) sees team members and captains (gulp!) compete in the Am-Am, a curtain raiser for tomorrows main event. Luke, Jamie and Sam will be finalising their preparations in an environment surrounded by sponsors and members, providing an excellent opportunity to give something back to our superb hosts whose warm welcome and hospitality are an equal match to the warm welcome afforded by the Portuguese sun.

www.portugalnationscup.org

Preparation is everything

It is here! The week of the Ryder Cup has just started and I bet the little airport in Louisville, Kentucky, is all prepared to welcome everything from the little private jets with prominent guests to the specially chartered plane with the European Ryder Cup players. On board the latter one I would have thought Robert Karlsson is one of those trying to get some rest. He may need that after his showcase victory in Cologne over the weekend where he captured his 8th European Tour title. Studying Robert’s schedule it is interesting to have a think about how players prepare for a week like the Ryder Cup. The one thing that is easy to spot is that all players are different and they all probably have their way of doing it. A way that has been tried and tested over the years. Robert for example is the kind of player who has not left one single stone unturned in his search for reaching his peak performance. Therefore I am pretty convinced that winning in Cologne (or at least performing really well) was very much part of his plan.

Preparing for the Ryder Cup

Preparing for the Ryder Cup

Before going to Cologne Robert had had three weeks off from tournament golf and my guess is that playing on tour the week before the Big Match was his way to get back into competition mode. If that was the right way for him only he will know after this week and after play has closed at Valhalla. Whether it would have been the right way for somebody else is equally difficult to know until after this week is over. The key though is that these players constantly search for their own best way of reaching the best performance, and they know pretty well when they want that performance to kick in. Not defining that and not searching is called guessing and there is no place for that in today’s sports.

As the European and PGA Tour players head for Valhalla three England players head to Portugal to try and defend the title in the Portugal Nations Cup won by England last year. Jamie Abbott, Sam Hutsby and Luke Goddard will be flying the flag, lead by the Assistant Director of Coaching Stephen Burnett. Steve has promised to give us updates on this blog as the week goes by. You can also follow the tournament via the offical web site.

The David Beckham era is over, the Walcott era had begun…

…according to the Daily Telegraph after England’s clash tonight with Croatia. After delivering a hat-trick wearing the number 7 shirt Theo Walcott may not be prepared to give it back to David Beckham. And in fairness, why would he…

Thats a hat-trick!

That's a hat-trick!

Among with a lot of people in England I did not see the match. It was televised on Setanta which reaches about 3 million homes and no wonder that created more than one newspaper article along the lines of ‘what a tremendous sell out that is’. Even without the pictures of the match I wonder about the difference between picking players based on experience and perceived performance levels and players that are young, hungry and have perhaps yet to prove that they are capable of displaying the same performance. Sven had Walcott in his England Euro Cup Team and even if he by many wasn’t regarded as a good enough player at that time I wonder what he could have done had he been given a chance. One year ago we had a very young and inexperienced Home Internationals team that took on the other Home Nations in Ireland. The team played with a lot of bottle and ended up winning the event. This year we also had a young and inexperienced team but there was a bit more of a mix with some more experienced players as well. We didn’t win and even worse I do not think we performed anywhere near our potential. And when studying the stats afterwards it is clear that the more experienced players did not deliver what you need to win such an event. Were they tired? Perhaps. Did they feel inspired enough to perform? Maybe. Was it just another event in a long line of tournaments in the season?I think yes. For the young guns it wouldn’t have been and I am pretty sure because of that on many occasions – inspiration beats experience!

Ireland win the Home Internationals

I think we have to admit that this has been Ireland’s year in amateur golf. After winning the European Team Championships and the Boys’ Home Internationals they now also added the Men’s Home Internationals to the resume of the year. England Captain Jonathan Plaxton reports from the last day at Muirfield;

“The final day of the 2008 ‘Homes’ brought a new course for the players to contend with. A wholesale change in the wind direction meant that players had to adapt to a completely different course from the one they had been playing. Having lost Eddie Pepperell, who won both games on his debut v Wales, to a mystery virus another early morning phone call meant that Charlie Ford was similarly ill and unable to play.
Having been joined by Jamie Abbott in case of such an emergency Jamie got the appearance he deserved for travelling so far but sadly no points, his lack of a practice round and last minute arrival being a distinct disadvantage. Another defeat (1.5 to 3.5) in the foursomes put Ireland in the driving seat and although England held the initiative in seven of the ten singles for some of the afternoon a reversal of fortunes in the top two singles saw likely wins turn into half points only. Although Matt Haines and Todd Adcock recorded wins others could not. Tommy Fleetwood was deprived of a possible half when his opponent was wrongly given a free drop on the final hole. Having plugged in an area not closely mown and in the same position where another player had earlier been forced to take a penalty drop near to a bunker his Irish opponent capitalised on the situation to scrape home 1 up. Another difference of opinion between player and referee saw Steve Uzzell’s match completed in less than ideal circumstances and with the match outcome decided and game 10 all square play was brought to a close and the players shook hands. Farren Keenan therefore claimed 2.5 points from his 3 singles. Ireland fully deserve the title having won all three of their matches. 

The event concluded, in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, under canvass (I.e in a very crowded tent) with the medal presentation to players who could now fully appreciate the quality of Muirfield links. Sadly despite the warm and secure clubhouse being on hand and empty, officials and players were made to walk two hundred yards, in very inclement weather conditions, to use a small marquee. We look forward to Hillside in 2008!  /JP”

For full coverage of the Home Internationals visit the Scottish Golf Union website.

Not England’s day at Muirfield

England Captain Jonathan Plaxton reports from day 2 of the Home Internationals at Muirfield;

“Having suffered a sound beating by Ireland on day one Scotland were clearly spoiling for a fight with England. Another 0730 start, for the first of five foursomes, meant an early start for the teams in what were very chilly but dry weather conditions. Sadly prior to play commencing Eddie Pepperell was declared unfit and subsequently had to go home on doctors orders. Matt Haines stepped in to partner Tom Sherreard and secure a half point which would turn out to be the only good news for England before lunch – 0.5 to 4.5 being the outcome of the foursomes series.
After lunch a determined approach to salvaging victory gradially faded to an attempt to save face and the result was already decided with five games still on the course. Farren Keenan aced the 7th hole on his way to a second last hole singles victory whilst Tom Sherreard remained unbeaten after 3 games. Todd Adcock was ‘mugged’ twice after surrendering a lead to first lose his foursome and then half his singles match. In the latter game his oppo finished eagle / birdie!
With the ‘tail enders’ once more delivering the points a closing birdie from Tommy Fleetwood secured his second singles win. Not even the surroundings of Muirfield on a glorious and almost windless afternoon could soften the blow of a 5 – 10 defeat by Scotland with Ireland setting up for Friday with a win over Wales. Nothing but a Friday victory, and by a wide margin, would give England any chance of the title.
Bring on Ireland was the unanimous sentiment of England’s remaining 10 players!
JP”


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