Whoever scripted the last two R&A Boys Home Internationals might want to apply for a job in Hollywood writing nail-biting thrillers. That’s an apt description of the 91st contest at Ashburnham Golf Club, Wales featuring the best juniors in Great Britain and Ireland.
For the second straight year, England triumphed at the expense of its Ireland in a tense contest and the match was almost a carbon copy of last year at Royal Dornoch. England won the deciding match by the identical score of 8-7 but, as with 12 months ago, it could have easily gone to the Irish.
England staged a remarkable comeback after losing the first morning foursomes session in three days of competition. The Irish took a two-point lead into the 10 afternoon singles after winning the foursomes 3½-1½ and looked like winning the trophy for the first time since 2013 when they were projected early on in the afternoon to take the session 8-7.
However, England slowly turned the tables on a strong Ireland team with good victories in the first seven matches. They won five of those matches to get in front and it was an edge they would never relinquish.
World number two Conor Gough led his side in the first singles matches and gained a halve against Tom McKibbin. That result took the score to 4-2. Joseph Pagdin and Robin Williams quickly evened the score at 4-4 with respective victories over Luke O’Neill and Aaron Marshal.
Hill keeps Irish hopes alive
Ireland’s Joshua Hill hit back with a 5&4 victory over Barclay Brown to put Ireland ahead. Hill deserves special mention as the reigning McGregor Trophy champion was the only player over the three days to win six points out of six. Engalnd’s Max Hopikins wasn’t far behind, winning five and a half of a possible six points.
Hill’s brilliant play couldn’t stop the English comeback though. The trio of Hopkins, Enrique Dimayuga and Habebul Islam put three further points on the board to take their side to seven points and within reach of a fourth straight title win.
Shot of the day
Islam’s match proved key to England’s success. He held a one-hole lead against Simon Walker playing the last and looked like he might lose the hole when he hit his second shot close to the out of bounds line on the left. He then made the up and down of his young life, pitching the ball from 80 yards to four feet and holing the subsequent putt for par after Walker had missed his 20-foot birdie putt.
Cue delight from the English players watching Islam playing the 18th. That point set up Callum Macfie to deliver the coup de grace. He duly did so by birdieing the 17th hole to defeat Max Kennedy 2&1 and ensure England retained the trophy for yet another year.
England captain Stephen Burnett said, “Even though we lost the foursomes this morning, I just felt that we could get six points out of the singles and that would do the job. We’ve got a very strong team and I knew they might just be stronger over the closing nine holes when the conditions got a little tougher.
“The wind picked up and the back nine played harder and the boys showed their talent by turning matches around that Ireland could’ve won. We got a lot of good performances today. I thought Conor’s (Gough) half point in the first match was important to get us off to a good start. Habebul’s (Islam) par at the 18th when he got up and down from 80 yards was crucial because it set up Callum (Macfie) to take us over the line, which he did. I’m over the moon.”
Scotland claim third
Scotland and Wales finally got some joy in the foursomes after difficult results in the first two days. They split the session 2½-2½ to set up an intriguing singles contest in the match for third place. Scotland won the session 6½-3½ to beat the Welsh 9-6 and finish third.
Most amateur golf aficionados would have picked England to win before the tournament began considering they had three players in the World Amateur Golf RankingTM top 10 in Gough (2) Pagdin (30) and Williams (85). However, Ireland nearly proved form isn’t everything. They left Wales with their heads held high after giving England a scare for the second straight year