2023 County Champions – Harry Cox (Welwyn Garden City) & Tala Clarke (Knebworth)

2023 County Champions – Harry Cox (Welwyn Garden City) & Tala Clarke (Knebworth)

2023 COUNTY CHAMPIONS – TALA CLARKE OF KNEBWORTH & HARRY COX OF WELWYN GARDEN CITY

Our flagship Championship events took place last week (Thu 1 to Sun 4 June), with the playing of our Men’s & Women’s County Championships. This was the fourth occasion that the Championships have been held simultaniously at the same venue, the first being back in 2020 at Letchworth with a reduced event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Championships were hosted by Moor Park Golf Club on their High Course, as part of their Centenary celebrations, along with many other events of note, namely the England Golf Boys Carris Trophy next month and R&A Local Open Qualifying at the end of this month. 

The event started this year on the Thursday with the Men’s strokeplay qualifying rounds, this was a swap with the Women’s strokeplay qualifying rounds, this year played on the Friday as a trial. 

The course as always with Moor Park was presented excellently with the recent dry weather allowing areas to sufficently dry out after the wet winter and early spring we’ve all experienced. In particuar the greens were very true, firm, and slick, with downhill putts on some of the more undulating greens providing a stiff challenge. 

The Men’s strokeplay qualifying saw a full field of 66 players, some of whom had qualified directly to this stage by dint of their handicap and others whom had qualified through by their performance in the Herts Salver event at Harpenden Common last month. Two excellent scores were returned in the morning round with 2019 Champion Joss Gosling of The Melbourne Club scoring a very impressive 68 (-4) and the always consistent Niall Johnston of Letchworth one shot back on 69 (-3). The scoring was generally very good in the morning with the all important cut line of 16th place standing at a low +2 after the morning round. However, the fairly constant of late North Easterly wind blew that bit more in the afternoon and the course firmed up and showed a bit more bite in the pm round. Both Joss and Niall ended up dropping back to level for the day, but on an afternoon countback Niall would win the Medalist title and the #1 seed position with a pm 75 against Joss with 76. The scores pushed out and saw a tie for 16th in the end on 152 (+8) with 5 players playing a sudden death play off for 4 spots. David Jackson of Hadley Wood, Phil Dormer of Letchworth and Harry Bennett of East Herts all made par 4 up the 1st hole of the High Course to progress, leaving Steve Standing of The Hertfordshire and George Leversuch of South Herts to battle out for the remaining spot after both made bogey 5’s. As the light dwindled the play off progressed back to the 1st hole after both players made regulation pars on holes 17 and 18, Eventually George claimed that last space after Steve dropped a shot at the 1st once again. Notable qualifier was 3rd time Men’s County Champion and Moor Park Centenary Captain John Ambridge. 

The Women’s strokeplay qualifer saw a total of 29 competitors on the day, a higher number than the most recent years. The conditions were more on the difficult side from the off for the Women as the wind of the previous afternoon was a constant all day and the greens were ever drying out and speeding up. Two players dealt with the conditions better than most, Anna Molloy of Sandy Lodge, just back from her first year of US college, and 16 year old Tala Clarke of Knebworth. Both players returned scores of 152 for the day, +6, both 76/76, but Anna would pip Tala for the Scratch Aggregate Cup on a pm back 9 countback. Tala did have the consolation of comfortably winning the Anne Pyke Trophy for the best nett score on the day with 144 (-2). The Team prize, best 2 from 3 scores from each round, was won by Sandy Lodge, with the aforementioned Anna teaming up witth Amiya Raja for a combined score of 324 gross, winning the Pam Lane Salver by 3 shots from Bishop’s Stortford. The top 16 mark fell on 176, with Connie Packer of Bishop’s Stortford up against Aly Nedza of Welwyn Garden City for the last remaining spot for the KO rounds the following morning. This sudden death play off was resolved much quicker than the Men’s equivalent, with Connie winning through on the 1st extra hole. 

The KO rounds begain with the Round of 16 for both the Men and the Women on the Saturday morning. As seems almost expected, the #1 seed in the Men’s event Niall Johnston crashed out to clubmate and Men’s 1st Team Manager Phil Dormer after a close match on the last green. One match between Connor O’Brien of Mid Herts and Louie Bloxham of Welwyn Garden City required 25 holes to resolve! Connor was 3 up with 3 to play but birdies on all of the last 3 holes saw Louie take the match to sudden death, which was finally resolved on the 7th with a birdie by Connor. The other notable event in the Men’s event was the victory for another Letchworth player Kiertan Sangha defeating the aformentioned John Ambridge also on the last green. In the Women’s event, the feature match was arguably the 2020 Champion Jackie Foster versus the 2021 Champion Emmanuelle Hewson of Mid Herts which produced a titanic battle which required extra holes to resolve and saw Jackie just edge the match on the 19th hole. 

The quarter final matches took place in warm sunshine and light winds on the Saturday afternoon and compared to what had come before most of the matches were resolved in a more comfortable and quicker fashion! Jackie Foster bowed out by losing to Tala Clarke in the Women’s and in the Men’s Joss Gosling and Letchworth’s Rob Holden, current England Under 25 Champion, set up a mouthwatering Semi Final match up by winning their quarter final matches. 

The final four in both events saw a blend of experience and youth, with past Champions still remaining in both. In the top half of the Men’s event Phil Dormer played 15 year old and current Herts Boys Champion Harry Cox of Welwyn Garden City. Harry played some inspired golf to go out in 29 shots and took a commanding lead, that despite a rally by Phil, Harry booked his place in the final by the margin of a 5&4 victory. To the right to play Harry in the final saw the Joss vs Rob match up that again saw some high level golf that was nip and tuck until Rob won 3 of the 4 holes from the 10th onwards to take a 3 hole lead and would end up claiming the match on the 17th green by the margin of 2&1. In the Women’s top half current Women’s Champion Kelly Cooke of Welwyn Garden City was making an excellent effort in retaining the title and would play the #1 seed Anna Molloy in the semi final. Kelly would lead throughout and held a 2 up lead on the 16th tee, but a birdie on the 16th by Anna halved the defecit and then mistakes by Kelly around the greens on 17 and 18 were swiftly punished by Anna to win all of the last three holes and claim the match on the 18th green 1 up. In the lower half semi final Tala Clarke took on Zainab Jeppe of Mill Green, runner up in this event in the 2020 tournament. Similar to the other semi final Zainab held a commanding lead, at one point as much as 5 up, but a back 9 revival by Tala saw her win 5 holes in a row from the 12th to the 16th and the match needed extra holes to resolve. Eventually Tala won the match on the 22nd, the 4th extra hole, with a par 4. 

The final matches were played in great spirit between several bright, young and talented individuals and at this point we were guaranteed to have new winners of both events. The Men’s Final saw Rob take an early lead on the 4th after Harry went through the back of the green and failed to get up and down and the following hole saw a stunning double sandy par to retain the narrow lead by Rob. Rob then birdied the par 5 6th to go 2 up. A brief two hole fightback on 8 and 9 to level the match was quickly extinguished when a mistake by Harry on the 10th would again see Rob take the lead. Harry birdied the 16th to again level the match, but a poor drive on 17 resulted in a bogey and a par from Rob gave him a narrow 1 hole lead up the last hole. Rob had the honour and found the green on the par 3 18th albeit a long way from the hole. Harry hit a terrific 8 iron to within 7 or 8 feet of the back flag. Rob’s long putt was a good one but left some work to do, but it became irrelevant when Harry brushed his birdie putt in to take the match to extra holes. On the 19th, Harry hit a majestic drive straight and true, while a pulled drive into the left trees from Rob gave Harry the advantage. Rob played a punch shot into the right greenside bunkers, while Harry played a confident approach shot again to within 8 feet of the flag. When Rob’s par save putt sailed by the hole he conceded the match to Harry and we had our Men’s Champion golfer for the year. In the Women’s final Tala took an early 3 up through 4 hole lead than despite best efforts Anna could never quite eat into, although the lead did go down to just 1 after the par 3 12th. Tala’s par with a delightful chip from the front fringe of the 14th green gave her a 2 up lead that she would end up closing out the match on the 17th green. Amazingly the combined age of our Champions for 2023 is an incredible 31 years old. 

Harry and Tala will now progress to represent Hertfordshire at the respective Champion of Champions events, played at Woodhall Spa in September and we obviously wish them all the very best. 

Our thanks go to Moor Park for hosting us and the competitors for the week and we wish them the best for the remainder of their Centenary year, especially those upcoming big events for the club. 

Next year’s County Championships will be held at Welwyn Garden City GC, again to mark their Centenary year. 

Click here to view all the Men’s results

Click here to view all the Women’s results

2023 COUNTY CHAMPIONS PICTUED WITH THE MOOR PARK CENTENARY CAPTAINS DIPTI PATEL & JOHN AMBRIDGE

WOMEN’S COUNTY CHAMPION 2023 – TALA CLARKE OF KNEBWORTH 

MEN’S COUNTY CHAMPION 2023 – HARRY COX OF WELWYN GARDEN CITY

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