Laird Shepherd and Monty Scowsill will contest an all-England match in tomorrow’s Final of The 126th Amateur Championship at Nairn.
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The former R&A Scholars battled through quarter and semi-final ties today over the Moray links to set themselves up for the 36-hole showdown.
The winner gains an exemption into The 149th Open at Royal St George’s, the 2022 US Open and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Rye’s Shepherd, 23, claimed a notable one-hole semi-final triumph over Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup player Jack Dyer, closing with a superb 3-wood into the par-5 18th for a winning birdie.
Dyer, 23, who finished runner-up in the stroke play qualifying, was two down after five holes but recovered to all square at the turn. Shepherd, who graduated from the University of Stirling last June and now lives in St Andrews, refused to go away in a nip-and-tuck back nine to set up his winning finish.
Shepherd said: “It’s amazing. I didn’t have any expectations this week, to be honest. I never thought I would get this far. I managed to buckle down and made birdie on the last in the semi-final.
“I had a decent lie for my second shot, 277 to the pin, and I knew if I got a flier I could get it on the surface. I just hit a perfect golf shot.
“You can’t hide from the opportunities that come with winning The Amateur. Either way, it’s been a brilliant week for me. It will be who can limit the mistakes tomorrow. I’m hitting it great, I just need to hold a few more putts.
“Dean Robertson has helped me with coaching at the University of Stirling. Louise Duncan won the Women’s Amateur last week and also went to Stirling, so it’s a crazy game.”
Reflecting on his recent challenges, he added: “I had a left knee operation at the end of 2018 and had back issues. I didn’t think I’d be able to play so many rounds of golf, but I’ve been feeling better.
“I worked in a Tesco call centre in Dundee during lockdown to try and make some money. My girlfriend, Chloe Goadby, did the same thing. It was a bit of an eye opener and made me more determined to try and make golf work.”
In the other closely-fought semi-final, ex-University of Exeter student Scowsill came through against Wales’ James Ashfield by two holes.
Welsh hopes ended
Ashfield, 20, was bidding to become the first Welshman to win The Amateur since Stephen Dodd at Royal Birkdale in 1989, but it was Scowsill, 25, who was two up after four holes. In a tight match, Ashfield pulled back to level the encounter at the 9th.
It was still all square after an extraordinary 12th hole when Ashfield found trouble on the right with his second shot, took a penalty drop line of sight back around 100 yards and promptly chipped in for bogey to halve the hole. However it was Woodbridge’s Scowsill who held his nerve to triumph, helped by a birdie at the 15th.
“It feels amazing,” said Scowsill. “I’ve exceeded my expectations for the week so far. I’ve played some really, really good golf. I went into the matchplay full of confidence and it has materialised into victories.
Big day ahead
“It was a tight semi-final match, tough in the wind and it was a case of who limited their mistakes. James gifted me the 18th so it made the walk up 18 a bit less stressful than it could have been. James is a gentleman, it was a great match and really nice to play with him.
“Tomorrow is a big day. It’s what you dream about as kid when you get into golf, playing in Majors with your idols. The opportunity for that to happen tomorrow is incredible and I’m extremely excited to play.
“I know I have been capable of succeeding and it’s been about proving it to myself this week. This is personal highlight. I didn’t get into golf until later in life, picked it up more seriously at 18 as I was a cricket player. I went to the University of Exeter and developed my golf in UK events.”
Nairn was bathed in glorious sunshine once more as the renowned links builds on its excellent reputation having hosted The Amateur in 1994, the Walker Cup in 1999 and the Curtis Cup in 2012.
Scott bid dashed
In the morning, hopes of a home winner ended at the quarter-final stage. Nairn member Calum Scott was again backed by local support and gave them early cheer by almost holing his tee shot at the short 4th to go one up against Ashfield.
However, Ashfield quickly turned the match around to win three holes in-a-row and go two up after seven. Scott battled back to all square after Ashfield’s double bogey on the 12th but the Welshman came through 2&1 to end the brave bid of the 17-year-old Scot.
Scowsill was never behind in his last-eight meeting with St Andrews’ John Paterson. The Englishman raced to a two-up lead after three holes after the Scot started with three bogeys and held control for the duration, winning 3&2 thanks to birdies on the 10th and 16th.
The most impressive quarter-final win came from Shepherd. Three down after six holes to countryman Sam Bairstow, he won three of the next five holes to square the match at the 11th. Left hander Bairstow went back ahead on the 14th before Shepherd won the 15th and 18th to edge through by one hole.
Dyer was again in superb form to defeat Olly Huggins, helped by winning the opening four holes. Huggins reduced his arrears to two holes by the 7th, but Dyer was rarely in trouble in a 5&3 triumph.
This year’s winner is seeking to join a roll of honour that includes past Amateur Champions José María Olazábal, Sergio Garcia, Matteo Manassero and last year’s victor, Joe Long.
Tomorrow’s 36-hole Final tees off at 8.30am and will be live broadcast on The R&A’s YouTube and Facebook accounts as well as on randa.org
Live scoring, news and video can be followed on The R&A’s website and social media platforms.