STOKE Park’s Conor Gough produced a sparkling performance to win the English Men’s Amateur Championship at Surrey’s Hankley Common, on Sunday.
The 16-year-old – who claimed the British Boys title a year ago – beat 20-year-old Callum Farr, from Northamptonshire County, 3&2 in the final.
The title adds to the McGregor Trophy he won last year – and dropped a heavy hint to the Walker Cup selectors, who left him out of their 16-man squad in July less than six months after including him in a 29-strong group.
And in winning his national championship Gough became the second youngest-ever winner of the English crown – just missing out on breaking Harry Ellis’ record by four days, after the Meon Valley G&CC teenager broke Sir Nick Faldo’s record in 2012, 37 years after it was set by Hertfordshire’s then 18-year-old future Masters winner.
Gough – who celebrates his 17th birthday in September – spent much of the early part of the season studying for his GCSEs but clearly the enforced break has had no detrimental effect on his golf.
He began the morning round of the final by hitting a 350-yard drive down the first and then holing out from 12-feet for a birdie and seven holes later he was three up after a birdie on the sixth and an eagle on the eighth.
Farr claimed his first hole of the day when he birdied from just off the front of the green at the 10th but he could never quite reel in his opponent and he was four down heading into lunch before he won the 18th with a par.
Farr started the second round strongly by winning the first with a birdie and the second with a par.
But last year’s Selborne Salver winner found himself three down again after dropping shots at both the fourth and fifth.
The pair then shared eight birdies between them before Gough sealed victory with a testing four-foot downhill putt for a par on the short 16th.
“It feels great to win,” said Gough moments after holing the winning putt. “I played really well. I love matchplay and as soon as I got through the strokeplay qualifier I knew I had a good chance.
“I’m proud of myself. I’ve got a couple of big weeks coming up so I hope I can keep things going.
“I’ve got the Boys’ Home Internationals next week and then the US Amateur Championship at Pinehurst.
“I’m really looking forward to that. It’s the same format as this so hopefully I can put in another good performance.”
It was impossible not to feel for England A squad member Farr, who has now reached the last four and the last two in the past two years without tasting success.
“I hit the ball better this afternoon but just couldn’t get the putts to drop,” Farr said. “I’m disappointed, but Conor is a very good player and he deserved to win because he played a lot better than me.
“I got to the semi-final last year and now the final so maybe next year will be my year,” Farr added.
Burnage beaten by Gough in semis
In Saturday’s semi-finals, Saunton’s Jake Burnage – who was looking to cement his own Walker Cup place by adding the English Amateur title to the St Andrews Links Trophy he claimed in early June – lost 4&3 to Gough.
Burnage, who won three times in 2017 to make a late bid to earn Walker Cup selection from virtually nowhere, had beaten The Buckinghamshire’s Will Shackleton 5&4 in the fourth round.
The Devon man then raced into the last four winning by the same margin against Sussex’s Jack Floydd, from Haywards Heath GC, who has been playing on the Alps and MENA Tours this year as an amateur.
Gough had ended Essex’s Curtis Knipes’ hopes of emulating Todd Clements – the 2017 winner – beating the Chelmsford player – who qualified for The Open at Royal Portrush last month – by 3&2.
In the other half of the draw Farr ended the dreams of another Essex hopeful beating Bradley Bawden – who played NCJAA for the University of Memphis’ Tigers team for two years after two years at Eastern Florida State – by 2&1.
That followed a 4&3 win over Walton Heath’s England Boys cap Enrique Dimayuga, who clearly felt at home on another of Surrey’s finest heathland courses, in the quarter-final.
Bawden had beaten recent Tillman Trophy winner Joe Harvey, from Gloucesterdshire’s Kendleshire GC, 2&1 to book his place in the last four.