Hampshire aim for top county prize

Rowlands Castle's Tom Robson
Rowlands Castle's Tom Robson
Harry Ellis. Picture: PA Images

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Hampshire will be gunning for the English County Championship for only the second time in their history when they travel to Wychwood Park later this week.

Steve Williams’ seven-man county side face up to 108 holes of matchplay against Somerset, Lincolnshire and Lancashire in the round-robin event to decide the top amateur side in the country.

It will be Hampshire’s 12th appearance in the finals since 1955 and much will depend on Hayling’s Darren Walkley and Corhampton pair Scott Gregory and Sam Day, while Tom Robson (Rowlands Castle) remains an important cog in the wheel.

Alongside Martin Young (Brokenhurst Manor), Ryan Henley (Stoneham) and Billy Watson (North Hants), the captain has tough decisions to make to name his final six-man line-up in each match.

And he is determined to keep everyone as fresh as possible.

Williams said: ‘In the past some people might have thought we were picking six players and a reserve.

‘But after chatting to the last three captains to have played in the event, it is evident we need to make sure the players are as fresh as possible come the final match on Sunday so it is a squad game.

‘Obviously, you might get to Crewe and when play gets under way, someone might not be playing as well as you were hoping.

‘As captain, I will have the job of deciding what is the best team to pick on the day.

‘That is where having players who can play in different pairings for the three morning foursomes is crucial and why Ryan Henley and Tom Robson are such great players to have to call on as they are very versatile in that format.

‘Ryan can play with almost everyone in the squad and Tom has played in a number of partnerships in the league over the years.

‘If everyone is playing well, then asking someone to sit out a session – I can play a different line-up in the six singles after lunch – might not go down well.

‘But by Sunday, after two days of 36 holes in what could be trying playing conditions and against some of the best amateurs in the country, it can be very tiring – both mentally and physically.

‘And in the end, being mentally fresh can be just as important when the English County Championship is on the line on the last day.’

It’s 19 years since Hampshire last lifted the title, when a certain Justin Rose was in the ranks and played his part in the victory at Woodhall Spa.

But Hampshire will fancy their chances of repeating the feat this time around.

Their strength in depth has been key to their progression from the south east group, with Rowlands Castle’s Billy McKenzie and Meon Valley’s Harry Eliis both playing their part before returning to their studies in USA.

Hampshire face Somerset on the opening day on Friday, with nine points up for grabs from each encounter incorporating three foursomes matches and six afternoon singles clashes.

They will then go up against Lincolnshire and Lancashire on Saturday and Sunday but the order will depend on the first day’s results.