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Gainer Garners First National Crown

by Colin Callander - July 10, 2017

Cara Gainer’s decision to take time out to play full-time golf paid rich dividends when she claimed her first national title at the English Women’s Open Match Play Championship at Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club on the outskirts of London.

The 21-year-old from Castle Royle decided to concentrate on golf after graduating with a degree in geography from Cardiff University and it proved to be a wise choice when she beat English international Lizzie Prior (Burhill), 3 and 2, in a final played in sweltering sunshine.

Gainer began her march to the title in spectacular style when she holed out for an albatross 2 to beat 13-year-old Kate Bibby (the Els Club Dubai), 2 and 1, and then came from behind with a barrage of birdies to defeat Emily Slater (Gog Magog) by the same scoreline before reaching the final with a 3-and-2 victory against Sophie Newlove (Beeston Fields).

Prior had overcome Bethan Morris (Tenby), Alice Plumb (Sherborne) and Olivia Winning (Rotherham) to reach the final but after a tight tussle with Gainer on the front nine she found her opponent too hot to handle, with Gainer winning four holes in a row from the 10th.

“I’m in a bit of a dream,” said the new champion. “It consolidates my view that I want to give golf a go. I’ve played this great golf in an intense period of time in this crazy heat and against some top players and I’ve come through on top.

“I’m so pleased, really chuffed.”

England squad player Hannah Screen led the field after the 36-hole stroke-play qualifier.

The 17-year-old from Berkhamsted came into the event having won the Bridget Jackson Bowl at Handsworth. She proceeded to shoot 71-66 to finish on 9-under 137, four shots ahead of Slater.

“My putter was hot today,” said the Hertfordshire player. “I hit some great shots off the tee but it all came down to the putting.”

It was all very different the next day when the medallist lost in the first round to Winning, although Screen still will take lots of positives from her performance after a disheartening start to the season. She was out for eight weeks recovering from a broken ankle and then had to take more time off to sit for her GCSE exams.

“I didn’t have any expectations when I came back and I was so relaxed it helped me perform,” Screen said. “My goal for the rest of the year is to climb up (the world ranking) as far as I can.”

Current members of England’s women’s and girls’ team missed this year’s championship to prepare for this week’s European Team Championships in Portugal and Finland.

Scotland’s Connor Syme can look forward to mixing it with the world’s best players after qualifying for the Open Championship at a sodden fqinal qualifying event at Gailes Links in Ayrshire.

Syme, who turns 22 this week, carded rounds of 71 and 67 to share first place with America’s Julian Suri and secure his first spot in one of golf’s four major championships.

It is also a result which will almost certainly cement his place in the GB&I Walker Cup team to face the Americans at Los Angeles Country Club in early September.

Syme was just a 9-year-old when he got Phil Mickelson’s golf ball as a memento while spectating at the 2005 Open and ever since then it has been his goal to play in the championship.

“I played awesome, especially to be bogey-free this afternoon,” he said after signing for what was the low round of the qualifier. “The first Open my dad took me to was at Troon in ’04 and I was buzzing after getting Phil Mickelson’s ball at St Andrews in ’05. I’ve still got it.

“I love the championship and it will be amazing to get inside the ropes and have a go at actually playing in it,” he added. “Hopefully, this helps my chances of making the Walker Cup team. It’s been an incredible day.”

Syme was the only amateur to claim one of the 15 places available at five final qualifying venues but there were several near misses as well.

At Gailes there were also fine performances from Walker Cup hopefuls Matthew Jordan and Robert MacIntyre, who finished 10th and tied 11th, respectively, and from Ireland’s Rowan Lester and England’s Adam Stone, who were in 16th place. It would now be a major surprise if both Jordan and MacIntyre are not selected alongside Syme for the Walker Cup match.

Across the border in England there was heartache for 19-year-old English amateur Rhys Nevin-Wharton and his Italian counterpart, Stefano Mazzoli, who lost out in a play-off against tour professional Laurie Canter at the final qualifier at Notts (Hollinwell). At one stage in the day both Nevin-Wharton and 2015 European Amateur champion Mazzoli looked set for a place in the championship after finishing at 7-under-par 137 but they were overhauled by Mark Foster and former English Amateur champion Joe Dean and then forced into extra holes after Canter equalled their total with rounds of 67 and 70. Mazzoli went out on the second extra hole and he was followed one hole later by Nevin-Wharton, who three-putted from just off the back of the green to hand the place to Canter.

A similar fate also befell Welsh Walker Cup contender David Boote, who finished tied third at Royal Cinque Ports with rounds of 71 and 70 only to see his hopes of clinching a place in the world’s oldest championship disappear when 20-year-old Austin Connelly birdied the first extra hole to advance. The 2016 Amateur champion Scott Gregory, Englishman Harry Hall and Spanish amateur Xabier Gorospe all finished one shot out of making the play-off at that venue while Germany’s Claudio Consul finished tied 13th and French Open Amateur champion Josh Hilleard tied 15th.

Elsewhere, Englishman Jack Clarkson was 15th at Hillside while at Woburn Norway’s Victor Hovland finished just one shot short of making a play-off after firing rounds of 72 and 67. There was also a spirited challenge from Lytham Trophy winner Jack Singh Brar, who finished tied for eighth while playing with Ian Poulter after posting rounds of 72 and 68. Poulter, who qualified for the Open himself, was clearly impressed by what he had seen because he later tweeted to suggest that Singh Brar “is going to be a star.”

The inclusion of Syme means there will be five amateurs in this year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. England’s Harry Ellis secured his place when he won the recent Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s and he was followed seven days later by his compatriot, Alfie Plant, who nailed down his spot with a win in the European Amateur at Walton Heath.

Until this year, the European Amateur was played after the Open so 2016 champion Luca Cianchetti also gets a place as does 2016 Mark H. McCormack Medal winner Maverick McNealy. The 2016 US Amateur champion, Curtis Luck, forfeited his exempt place, electing to turn pro.

Hannah Darling, 13, has become the youngest player to win the Scottish Girls’ Amateur Championship. The Broomieknowe teen eclipsed the record set by 14-year-old Jane Connachan in 1978 at Scotscraig when she beat West Kilbride’s Louise Duncan by 2 and 1 in the semi-final and then held off a late fightback from 17-year-old Jillian Farrell from Cardross to win the final by two holes.

Darling stormed to a five-hole lead after 27 holes but Farrell won five of the next six to draw level before Darling birdied the 33rd and chipped in for an eagle on the 34th to regain a two-hole advantage. Farrell responded by winning the 35th before her young opponent sealed her first national title in style with a birdie on the 36th.

“It’s all a bit surreal at the moment and my WhatsApp is going crazy,” admitted Darling, who is a pupil at Lasswade High School and is coached by Ian Muir. “It’s not sunk in yet, to be honest. Jillian came back at me so that chip-in at the 16th (34th) was very important.

“You’ve got to believe you can do it, but I’m obviously one of the youngest players here so it was just a case of trying my best and seeing how I compared to the other girls,” she added.

“I only got a handicap three years ago but I’ve been hitting plastic clubs since I was 4 and came up through (Scotland Golf’s) ClubGolf (programme).”

This year marked the first time both the Scottish Girls’ and the Scottish Boys’ were played simultaneously and the latter also produced its share of surprises.

The event started in predictable fashion when one of the favourites, Darren Howie (Peebles), topped the leaderboard ahead of Marc Watt (Inverallochy) at the end of the 36-hole stroke-play qualifier but Howie lost in the first round to Jamie Marchbank (Dumfries & Galloway) and was joined on the sidelines by Scottish Boys’ stroke-play champion John Paterson (St Andrews New), who was beaten by Steven Pears (Nairn Dunbar).

Defending champion Eric McIntosh (Bruntsfield Links) and fellow Boys’ international Watt were the next fancied players to depart when they lost in the third round to Aidan Smith (Edzell) and James Morgan (Longniddry). By the end of the week Greg Dalziel (Airdrie) and Australia-based Josh Greer (Joondalup) made it through to the final with semi-final victories against Dean Walsh (Lochgelly) and Callum Bruce (Duff House Royal).

Greer left Scotland with his family when he was 11 and for a while it looked like the 16-year-old would make a fairy-tale return when he was 3 up after 21 holes, but Dalziel squared the match five holes later.

Dalziel, 16, moved ahead for the first time at the 29th and went on to seal a one-hole victory after his opponent passed up decent chances to draw level on the 33rd and 34th holes.

“I certainly didn’t picture this coming into the week but I came through,” said the new champion. “I’ve won the Scottish Boys’ Area Team Championship for the past two years so I drew on that experience. It’s my biggest win to date.”

Ireland’s Eoin Leonard was in record-breaking form as he routed the field at the Boyd Quaich over the Old and New courses at St Andrews.

The Yale University student began the tournament with a 4-under-par 67 on the New course and then added a 67 on the Old and a 66 on the New before completing an impressive wire-to-wire victory with a 65 on the Old.

Leonard’s 21-under-par total of 265 was enough for him to finish nine shots clear of Aberdonian Adam Fisher (Missouri State) and to break the previous tournament aggregate record by no less than 13 shots. The former Irish junior international carded only three bogeys during his 72 holes with the last coming in tough conditions on the 18th hole of his first round.

Fisher’s rounds of 68, 70, 68 and 68 also would have beaten the previous record but in this instance he had to settle for second on 274, four shots in front of Stirling’s James Wilson and five ahead of another Scot, Duncan McNeil from Annan, who was representing McNeese State.

Marie Coors overcame a strong international field to win the German International Ladies’ Amateur Championship at Mülheim an der Ruhr.

The Frankfurt player carded rounds of 69, 68, 72 and 72 to finish four clear of compatriot Franziska Friedrich on 7-under 281 with Germany’s Paula Kirner and Jana Melichová from the Czech Republic in third, a single shot further behind.

The low round was produced by Scotland’s Eilidh Briggs, who was languishing well down the field after opening 74-75-74 but she climbed into a share of fifth place alongside Germany’s Laura Kowohl, Denmark’s Cecilie Finne-Ipsen and Holland’s Romy Meekers after signing off with an 8-under 64.

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