Hampshire captain Colin Roope has both his Shanklin college golf stars available for this weekend’s showdown for the South Division title when Surrey travel to Hayling GC.
Victory for the home side will book Hampshire’s place in the South Eastern Group League Final for the first time in four years – bar some freak results in the remaining division fixtures – courtesy of Roope’s men’s two big wins over Sussex and Kent – the latter a 101/2-11/2 trump at Shanklin at the end of May.
Both Isle of Wight champion Conor Richards and clubmate Jordan Sundborg featured in that crushing victory picking up maximum points – and also starred in the 81/2-31/2 win over Sussex at Littlehampton at the start of July.
But the pair were unable to prevent Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire stealing their South East crown after their 12-shot win at Orsett, in Essex, three weeks ago, booked their place in the English Country Finals at the end of September.
Richards and Sundborg would have almost certainly been unable to travel back from their respective colleges for the finals if Hampshire had extended their reign as South East Champions for a fourth year in a row.
Even so there was no shame in finishing in second place with a total of two-over par – which most years would have been good enough to win the battle in the 11-strong South Eastern Group.
Sundborg is available to face Surrey having travelled back from Merseyside this week, after missing the cut in the English Amateur Championship, which took place at Formby.
The Stirling University ace was hoping to emulate the success of Hampshire’s two British Amateur Champions – Harry Ellis and Scott Gregory who both played for Great Britain and Ireland in September’s Walker Cup in Los Angeles before turning pro.
Ellis was the youngest-ever English Amateur champion – breaking Sir Nick Faldo’s record – when he won in 2012 at the age of 16, while Gregory, who lost in the 2014 final also made the last eight in 2015 and 2017.
Sundborg, who qualified for the matchplay phase at Ganton in 2016, missed out by four shots after an opening round of 78 at nearby Hesketh left him with too much to do at Formby, where he shot a respectable one-under par 71 to finish on six-over.
But the early departure enabled the college golfer – whose team won the Scottish, British and European College titles earlier this year – to travel back down from Lancashire with enough time to prepare for the clash with Surrey in Hampshire’s fourth and final league game of the season.
Roope had said he would be prepared to change the team he picked if any of the county’s aces had reached the last 32 which got underway on Friday morning.
Richards is back from a well-earned holiday after his exploits for Lander University in South Carolina where he was picked for the National Association of Inter-Collegiate Athletics All-American Second Team and also chosen as Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year.
Conor, who reached the quarter-finals of last year’s Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship for the first time, in Jersey, said: “Since last summer I feel I have come on leaps and bounds, not just the golfing side but mentally too,
“Every time I tee it up now I believe I can win and compete with the best guys in the country week-in, week-out.
“Being in the States and playing against the kind of strength of competition we face has taught me how to go low – and what it takes to win tournaments out there,” added the business administration student.
His county captain caddied for Conor, the 2015 Hampshire Boys Champion, during the South East Qualifier, at Romford, and said watching the 20-year-old had inspired him to play better.
Roope has since won the Pearson Mid-Amateur Trophy at Liphook, and beaten some of the best amateurs and the top club professionals in the Hampshire Open at Hayling two weeks ago.
He said: “Watching Conor play so well at Orsett made me want to get straight back out on the course and play again after dropping myself for the six-man team event.
“I was so proud of my players that day. They played so well and there was no disgrace in coming second.
“I have said all along that my aim after taking over as captain from Martin Young at the start of the year was to get Hampshire back in the South East League Final and to win the Daily Telegraph Salver again.
“It has been six years since we won that title – a long time given all the success we have enjoyed as individuals and as a team in recent years.”
Roope, who played for Surrey at two English County Finals more than 10 years ago, and helped Hampshire become English County Champions for the first time in 21 years since Justin Rose was in the team as a teenager, at Trevose, in North Cornwall, last September, will come face-to-face with an old clubmate and former Hayling member on Sunday.
Surrey captain Kieran Lovelock hails from Hindhead, where Roope was also a member in his Surrey days, before moving to Hampshire two years ago.
Kieran, who was in the team that helped beat Hampshire 7-5 at Hindhead a year ago, is looking forward to locking horns with their arch-rivals.
He said: “We will be giving what we know is a very good Hampshire side a real tough game.
“Hayling is a fantastic track and will no doubt be playing tricky with the firm conditions and Hampshire’s tendency to maximise home advantage with the way they set the course up. I have some great memories of the place as a junior member.
“It was big for us to win at Hindhead last year and we will look to repeat it this year.
“It will also be great to be going against Roopey who I used to play with a lot when we were both members at Hindhead.
Even a win for Surrey could still see Hampshire progress depending on the result between Dorset and Kent, who meet at Bridport on Sunday – and if Lovelock’s men fail to beat Sussex in their last game in two weeks’ time – while the winner of Dorset and Kent would have to win their other game too to have any chance of overhauling Hampshire.
The latter have thrashed Kent 101/2-11/2 in May, and came from behind to beat Sussex 81/2-31/2 last month having escaped from Dorset with a draw thanks to Roope’s win on the last as last man out.
Hampshire team: Colin Roope (Blackmoor) capt, Martin Young (Brokenhurst Manor), Tom Robson (Rowlands Castle), George Saunders (Meon Valley), Jordan Sundborg, Conor Richards (Shanklin & Sandown), Toby Burden (Hayling), Jordan Stokes (La Moye).