Conor Gough will play Jose Luis Ballester in the Final of the 92nd Boys Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush tomorrow.
Gough booked his place in the Final thanks to a 4&3 victory over fellow Englishman Jensen Hull. Earlier, he knocked out the highest-ranked player in the field, Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard by the same score. Gough’s quarter-final victory came after defeating Nicolai’s twin brother Rasmus in Thursday’s first round.
The 15-year-old, who claimed the McGregor Trophy in July and the boys’ title at the Fairhaven Trophy earlier in the year, is now eyeing his third win of the season.
“I got up in the match early so it was a boost for the rest of the round,” said Gough. “I just knew if I kept on hitting greens the birdies would come and force him to do the work. I played really well.
“(Knocking out Nicolai) was a massive confidence boost. He is another great player. I know I won 4&3 but he is something else. I holed a lot of putts in that match. I made five birdies in a row so I just putted really well at the right time.
“I am relieved to make it to the Final. I’m really happy with myself and I have got this far now so I am just going to try to finish it off.”
Gough was never behind in his match with Hull and took an early lead at the 4th hole. Despite carding his first bogey of the tie, his opponent could only make a double bogey. The Stoke Park golfer increased his lead immediately with a birdie at the par-4 5th and went further ahead at the 7th to leave Hull trailing by three after eight holes played.
Hull, who defeated Sweden’s Gustav Andersson on the last in this morning’s second quarter-final match, attempted to turn the match and managed to cut Gough’s advantage to just one, recording his first birdie at the 9th and capitalising on a Gough bogey at the next.
Hull’s comeback didn’t last, however, and, after suffering a bogey at the 11th, Gough held on and restored his three-hole lead at the 13th when Hull found the left green-side bunker at the short par-three. Gough closed the match out on the 15th with his fourth birdie of the match.
Gough will now look to emulate Ryder Cup player and four-time winner on the European Tour Matthew Fitzpatrick to become the first English winner of the championship since the Sheffield golfer’s victory at Notts (Hollinwell) in 2012.
He added, “Matt is doing quite good for himself now. It’s really good to see the names who have won this and let’s hope I can follow in Matt’s footsteps.”
On the day he turned 15, Ballester was the birthday comeback kid in both his quarter-final and semi-final matches. Trailing England boys international Max Hopkins by three after 15 holes, he kept his composure while Hopkins struggled over the final stretch to take the tie to a play-off, which the Spaniard won on the 20th.
After a tight affair with Florida-based Englishman Joseph Pagdin, Ballester did not lead in the match until the 18th where he claimed victory. The Valencia native suffered an early blow on the first hole and found himself trailing quickly in the match. The pair traded holes until the 8h where Pagdin went 2up for the first time with a fine birdie at the par-four.
The back-and-forth nature of the match continued with Pagdin unable to stretch his lead. Ballester found a red-hot run of form to card three back-to-back birdies from the 16th and with Pagdin unable to match him, the Spaniard claimed victory on the 18th green.
Ballester will now look to follow in the footsteps of his golfing hero Sergio Garcia, who won the Boys Amateur Championship in 1997 at Saunton, and become the first from Spain to lift the trophy since Adrian Otaegui at Kilmarnock (Barassie) in 2010.
He said, “Wow – I am feeling very good and it’s amazing to be here in the Final. It’s a little bit of a surprise but I know I am a good player and I can be here. To win this tournament would be amazing.
“It was hard day. In the first match I felt like I was going to lose but I was lucky that we went to a play-off and I won. In the second match it was very similar. I had to make three birdies on the last three holes. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.
“It’s great to play Royal Portrush with The Open being here next year. The course is amazing, very hard – and the weather is different from Spain. I look up to Tiger but also Sergio because I have played twice with him in Valencia.”
The 36-hole Final takes place on Sunday with the first round scheduled to tee off at 8.30am. Admission and parking is free.