All eyes will be on whether reigning defending champion Ryan Henley can make even more history when the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship gets underway at Blackmoor on Friday.

The Stoneham member claimed his fourth Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup at Hockley, 12 months ago, with a 4&3 win over 2015 winner Darren Walkley.

It was the former EuroPro and ProTour player’s return to top county championship golf, having turned pro after his first win in the final nine years ago.

Now Walkley, a member at Liphook, plays for fun, but admits once he is out on the course the competitive juices flow and he only has one thought of winning – it’s just that he can cope with the pressures of failure far more easily with a young family that are far more important to him than the outcome of one or two rounds of golf.

But Henley – who was over the moon about joining the club of just five players to have won four or more Sloane-Stanleys – has two other targets on his back as he competes against the best 71 other amateurs in Hampshire and the Islands.

He is bidding to become the first player since Brian Winteridge in 1982 to win back-to-back titles, having equalled the Stoneham and Hockley player’s total of four wins.

Winteridge passed away in 2020 having moved away to Devon to play most of his seniors golf.

The former county captain carried a reputation among his rivals of trying to psyche out his opponents in matchplay, and was not the most popular player in the locker room – although his friends would say that didn’t worry him too much.

But where Henley stands at the crossroads in Hampshire Golf’s history is he can become the first player to win the oldest county championship in England at the same venue three times in a row.

Having lost in the 2000 final at Royal Jersey to Channel Island postman Christy MacLaughlin, Ryan quickly matched his brother Darren’s two titles with victories in 2005 over county foursomes partner Martin Young from Brokenhurst Manor as both sought their maiden win.

Henley was holding the trophy aloft again two years later with a win at Royal Guernsey, over L’Ancresse local Steve Mahy, but then lost on his home course to Brokenhurst’s Jon Watt when he had his first chance to emulate Winteridge’s back-to-back feat.

He then had to wait another six years before completing the hat-trick. Henley beat Petersfield’s Ben Lobacz, who became a postman after his shock appearance in the final – in a bid to become an established county first-teamer.

Henley dropped out of the Hampshire first-team squad two years later after starting a family, but his reappearance on the county scene after COVID saw him back in his stride, despite a poor showing by his standards at Stoneham three years ago.

His seventh final appearance moved him within two of Stoneham legend David Harrison, who holds the record for the most county championship victories, with six between 1965 and 1976.

Those six wins in 11 years were bookended by victories at Stoneham – Hampshire’s leading courses normally host the county championship every ten or 11 years, with the Channel Islands sharing the event roughly once a decade.

But while Henley and Walkley might be favourites to make their way through two rounds of strokeplay on Friday, and three rounds of matchplay over the weekend to contest the afternoon final, there are at least another dozen players who have the game to win the Sloane-Stanley.

Liphook’s George Saunders has missed several county championships in the past playing in the St Andrews Links Trophy, at the Home of Golf, but the plus-three handicapper is in the field and looking to go better than in 2022, when the former England under-16 international lost in the quarter-finals.

But as the Delhi Cup winner at Hockley in May, he will be looking to follow the success of Walkley in 2015 and Freeman in 2022, who went on to lift the Sloane-Stanley for the first time.

By Andrew Griffin