Bucks Boy Gough Crowned British U18 Champion
STOKE Park’s Conor Gough defeated Jose Luis Ballester to win the 92nd Boys Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush.
The B.B.&O. Boys star becomes the first Englishman to lift the trophy since Matthew Fitzpatrick’s victory at Notts (Hollinwell) in 2012.
He will now play in The 124th Amateur Championship at Portmarnock and The Island, and gains an exemption into Final Qualifying for The 148th Open, also at Royal Portrush, as a result of his victory.
The 15-year-old teed off for the second round of the final two up against Ballester after a closely contested opening 18 holes of high quality golf.
Neither player manged to advance further than a one-hole lead until the par three 16th where Ballester, when one down, faltered with a bogey. Gough went further ahead thanks to a birdie at the 17th but the Spaniard hit back on the next to reduce his opponent’s lead to two holes heading into the break.
The Buckinghamshire boy stumbled in the early stages of the afternoon round with a double bogey at the 20th and a bogey on the 21st which enabled Ballester to square the match once more. The lead continued to swing to-and-fro on the front nine with neither player able to build a commanding lead.
With the crowds building, the key moment came at the par four 29th. Having watched Ballester roll in a 20ft putt for birdie, Gough stood over his own which rested around 15ft from the pin. Under pressure, he read the line brilliantly and used the break off the left to find the hole.
On the next, both players found the bottom of a steep embankment with their approach shots to the green. Ballester showed his touch to pitch close to the pin from the heavy rough but Gough went one better as he delighted the crowd by chipping in for eagle and a one hole lead.
Gough, who already has two wins under his belt this season having claimed the McGregor Trophy in July and the boys’ title at the Fairhaven Trophy earlier in the year, never looked back from that point and grew in confidence as the match neared its conclusion. He carded another birdie at the par four 32nd to double his lead and required just a half for victory at the 35th.
When Ballester’s tee shot landed in a gorse bush to the left of the fairway he deemed the ball unplayable and took a drop under penalty of one stroke. Sadly, the young Spaniard’s approach fell just short and found a greenside bunker at which point he conceded the hole and the match to the Englishman who completed a memorable 3&1 victory.
A delighted Gough said: “I feel incredible. It’s a dream come true. I never thought it would have happened this year.
“I knew I was playing well but I didn’t quite think I’d go this far. Now I’m here the winner so I’m really happy with myself.
“The turning moment was 11 – I made a 15ft putt birdie to stay all-square and then 12 was big for eagle. I parred 13 and then made another really important birdie on 14.
“Jose was really good. He gave me a very good game and he impressed me quite a lot with his irons – he was hitting it close.
“I thought I may be picked for the Jacques Léglise Trophy before but I’m hoping now this has really secured it.
“I have had an incredible season. I don’t think I have finished outside the top 12 in any competition this year so I am just playing really well and I’ve managed to keep the form going.”
And following in the footsteps of the 2012 Boys Amateur Champion and the last English winner, who went on to win the US Amateur 12 months later and forced his way into Darren Clarke’s 2016 Ryder Cup team that lost to the USA at Hazeltine – is something not lost on young Gough.
He added: “Matt Fitzpatrick is a very good person to follow. If I can keep on following in his footsteps I won’t be doing too bad.”
Conor’s father was originally from just outside Dublin, and his mother is from County Down, so victory on Irish soil tasted even sweeter for his family.
He said: “The family are really enjoying this. They couldn’t have picked a better place for me to win so they will be buzzing for me.”
And he has a chance return to the scene of his historic win in Northern Ireland next July – thanks to his exemption for Final Qualifying as The Open heads across the Irish Sea for the first time since 1959.
Conor said: “If I get into The Open, especially here at Royal Portrush, that would be a real dream come true.”
Ballester reflected: “I am very happy to be in the Final I am a little bit sad because I lost but I played very good so I’ve got to be happy with my golf. I have to say congratulations to Conor.
“It was amazing to play in front of the crowd. I was feeling like a pro.”
The 93rd Boys Amateur Championship will be played at Saunton’s East and West courses, from August 13-18. Hampshire’s Scott Gregory reached the English Men’s Amateur final there in 2014.