Laird Shepherd produced one of the greatest ever comebacks to win The 126th Amateur Championship in emotional scenes at Nairn.
In an all-England 36-hole Final with Monty Scowsill over the renowned Highland links, the 23-year-old remarkably fought back from eight down after 17 holes and from four down with four to play to triumph at the 38th hole in an extraordinary match.
Tears at finale
Having battled with knee and back injuries in recent times and worked in a Tesco call centre during Covid-19 lockdown, Shepherd was in tears at the dramatic conclusion given the enormity of what the former R&A Foundation Scholar has achieved.
In his fourth appearance at The Amateur, the ex-University of Stirling student was warmly hugged by his girlfriend, the Scottish amateur player Chloe Goadby, and friend and caddie, Andrew Davidson.
“It’s an amazing, amazing feeling,” said Shepherd. “To come back from eight down through 17 holes, I mean I was honestly more concerned about not making an embarrassing record-breaking defeat. Monty played so good in the morning, so composed, and I didn’t really have my game. To turn it around was unbelievable.
“The tears are probably for the tough times I’ve had over the last few years. It’s never nice as an athlete when you feel like you are going backwards, like I was.”
Shepherd, a member of Rye Golf Club in East Sussex, can now look forward to competing in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s next month, the 2022 US Open and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Shepherd, who joins a roll of honour that includes José María Olazábal, Sergio Garcia, Matteo Manassero and Romain Langasque, will also be invited to play in an event on the European Tour.
He added: “The last 18 holes I thought ‘I’m not going to win’, but at least I could get a few highlights that I can watch on YouTube one night! It’s just amazing how things can change.
“Looking back on it, winning the 18th was so important. I just managed to get into a bit of a groove in the afternoon once I won a few holes. I can’t describe how I felt coming down the last four holes but I was in a calm place. In the morning, I was all over the place and was more concerned about being sick on live TV.”
Special experiences ahead
On playing in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s, he smiled: “It’s just going to be really special. Whatever happens in the events I’m now going to play, nobody can take that experience away from me. I’m so looking forward to testing my game out against the best players in the world.
“I’ve played a few South East links championships at Royal St George’s and I’ve always enjoyed the course. It’s the closest one to my home address in Sussex in terms of The Open venues. I went there as a kid watching Opens.”
The Final, which was live broadcast on The R&A’s YouTube and Facebook accounts as well as on randa.org, saw two former R&A Foundation Scholars go head-to-head after coming through the 144-player field.
Scowsill, 25, an ex-University of Exeter student, made a hat-trick of birdies from the 5th – including a wonderful chip-in from the back of the par-3 6th – to seize the initiative on a pleasant morning with little breeze.
Scowsill storms ahead
Shepherd, who now lives in St Andrews after graduating, passed up an opportunity at the 8th and found himself four down after nine holes. Scowsill quickly made another birdie to extend his lead as he played the opening 10 holes in four-under-par. Shepherd saw another chance slide by from seven feet on the short 11th, before three putting the 14th to fall six holes behind.
Woodbridge’s Scowsill, a former cricketer, then drove the 303-yard 15th to set up a winning birdie. Shepherd then also three-putted the 17th to fall eight behind but he claimed his first hole of the match after Scowsill went out of bounds with his tee shot on the 18th.
Shepherd was bidding for another victory for the University of Stirling after Louise Duncan’s triumph in last week’s Women’s Amateur Championship at Kilmarnock (Barassie).
He needed a fast afternoon recovery at Nairn – which last hosted The Amateur in 1994 – and secured his first birdie of the contest at the 23rd to return to six down.
Further birdies followed at the 26th and 27th to cut the deficit to four, but a bogey at the 29th saw Scowsill briefly go five up with only seven to play.
At the 30th, Shepherd’s par was good enough to claw one back but he soon found himself needing to win the last four holes to keep the match alive. Incredibly, he did so in dramatic scenes, helped by superb birdies at the 33rd and 35th. At the par-5 36th, Scowsill hit a tree with his drive and then lipped out for glory. At the 38th, it was all over as Scowsill three putted for bogey and Shepherd’s stunning comeback was complete.
Praise for Scowsill
Shepherd said: “I feel for Monty, he is a mate of mine. He did play so well, holed a lot of great putts. He didn’t give it away, he really didn’t. He holed greats putts on the 34th and the 35th to make me hole mine. It’s then a tough tee shot on the 36th and that kind of thing can happen.
“I said to my dad and girlfriend after the first 18 holes that I felt really, really flat and didn’t have any adrenaline. I can’t remember the last time I played 36 holes in a day, never mind three days in-a-row. Touch wood, my body is feeling good, there is still work to be done in that area, but I managed to get the motivation going on the back nine.”
A dejected Scowsill added: “It’s really tough to take. I was in command all the way, really. I finished poorly and Laird finished very well, to be fair to him. That’s golf.
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I just didn’t hit the shots when I needed to on the back nine. It happens. It was my morning, it was his afternoon.
“On the 36th hole I was trying to hit it down the left side and I just hit it a bit full and it hit the tree. It’s still been a good week and congratulations to Laird.”