TIME was when a scratch handicap was the benchmark of a top amateur golfer. Not any more, it seems. Indeed, you’d need to be off +1 just to be one of the earliest starters in Saturday’s Selborne Salver at Blackmoor, such is the quality of the game today.
A dozen of the 66-strong field boast playing handicaps of +4, with Royal Liverpool’s Matthew Jordan off a dizzying +4.4. Jordan won the 2016 Hampshire Hog and would relish capturing the second half of the county’s spring double.
Gian-Marco Petrozzi, of Trentham Park, is a consistently high finisher. Fourth in last year’s Brabazon Trophy, he tied third in the 2016 Hampshire Salver and replicated the feat in the Duncan Putter, so the +4.2 man is clearly comfortable at stroke-play.
Malton & Norton’s David Hague, halfway leader in last year’s Salver, shot two sub-70 rounds in the recent Italian Amateur and holds the record of 63 at his own club in North Yorkshire, while Simon Richardson, from Spalding, in next- door Lincolnshire, won the 2015 Salver and will fear nobody.
His successor, James Walker, of The Oaks, Yorks, took the title with a brace of 68s, going on to senior England honours, playing against France in the Home Internationals.
Another +4 man, David Corben (Hindhead) has been Surrey county champion for the past two years and would enjoy proving his talents are not merely confined to match-play.
William Whiteoak (Shipley), yet another member of the powerful Yorkshire county squad, had a top-ten finish in the 2016 Welsh Open, closing with rounds of 66, 65, while Celtic Manor’s Josh Davies, off +3.8, won the 2015 Duncan Putter.
Two years on, that feat was matched last weekend by Ham Manor’s teenage sensation, Charlie Strickland. Not yet 18, he negotiated the tough Southerndown course, on the shores of the Bristol Channel, near Bridgend, in 69, 69, 67, 69 to win by six shots. Now off +3, he will arrive at Blackmoor in the hottest of form and will surely be one to watch.
Josh Hilleard (Farrington Park) won neither the Selborne Salver nor the Hampshire Hog in 2016, but he did annex the world-ranking Hampshire Salver for lowest score over the 72 holes, so could be there or thereabouts.
George Bloor (Cavendish) was beaten finalist in the 2016 English Amateur at Ganton, while Tom Gandy, another +4 man, made the last eight. From the Rowany club, Gandy is the first Isle of Man golfer to play in the Salver.
Much nearer home, Jack Singh-Brar (Remedy Oak), playing off a mark of +3.6, was joint third in the 2016 Salver and knows Blackmoor well, as does Hampshire county captain and current champion, Martin Young (Brokenhurst Manor), now a veteran and, off +3.2, playing some of his best golf.
Blackmoor’s own interests will be well served by the 2009 champion, Mark Burgess, Ben Lobacz, the 2016 Hampshire Open champion and Colin Roope, the 2016 Hants Order of Merit winner.
James Crampton (Spalding) and John Kemp (Woburn) have both been round the block and are dab hands at eking good scores out of tough courses. Neither will be there just to make up the numbers and will probably have at least one good round in them.
Others who could shine are Jack Yule (King’s Lynn), runner-up in the 2016 Selborne Salver, Ben Hutchinson (Howley Hall), runner-up in last week’s Berkhamsted Trophy, where he lost in a play-off, and Sam Whitaker (Blankney), winner of the Hampshire Hog in 2015.
Sadly, there’ll be no place at Blackmoor for the Amateur Champion of 2016, Scott Gregory (Corhampton). Just back from his appearance in The Masters at Augusta, where he added a gallant 75 to a windblown first-round 82, there was just no place for the Salver in his hectic schedule.