Mckenzie leads locals through in English Amateur

Billy Mckenzie
Billy Mckenzie
Scott Gregory. Picture: Andrew Griffin

Gregory misses out

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Billy Mckenzie believes he can go all the way in the English Amateur Championship after blazing through qualifying.

The Rowlands Castle talent, who is on his summer holiday from his studies in America, shot a fine one-under-par round of 70 on day one of the competition on the East course at Saunton in Devon.

And he survived a mid-round wobble to follow it with a steady two-over-par 73 to cruise through to the matchplay stage of the tournament as he bids to lift the title that has so often been a springboard for players to go on to carve out professional careers.

Mckenzie said: ‘I played really nicely for the first two days but I haven’t really holed many putts.

‘If I can get the putter warmed up a bit more, I will give myself an opportunity to go a lot further into the tournament.

‘My play from tee to green has been awesome.

‘You can’t look too far ahead when you have so many rounds of matchplay to come before you get to the final.

‘But it’s good to qualify quite high up the seedings and I guess I have got as good a chance as anyone to go on from here.’

A blistering back nine was the key for Mckenzie on day one as he went out in two-over-par 38 but roared back with 32, which included three birdies and then an eagle at the par five 15th. His second round on the West course was a different tale as he reached the turn at one under par but then suffered a triple bogey at the par four 13th and dropped another shot at the next.

But he steadied the ship and then picked up a stroke at the 17th hole to finish on one over par for the tournament for a share of 10th place – easily good enough for a place in the top 64 to make the next stage where it is head-to-head matchplay.

He said: ‘Everyone is a good player here and anyone can beat anyone.

‘But I’m just looking to take one round at a time and see where that takes me.

‘I’ve got a new set of Callaway Apex Pro irons in the bag this week and they have really helped my game already.

‘But it’s a course I like and it suits me. I came second in the West of England Championship last year so I feel comfortable here.

‘I’m just looking to go out there and enjoy it.

‘I will be looking to play as well as I can and we will see what happens.’

Meon Valley’s Harry Ellis, the champion from two years ago, also made it through with solid rounds of 73 and 74 for a five-over-par total that was well within the cut-off point.

The 18-year-old talent triumphed at Silloth-on-Solway to replace Sir Nick Faldo as the youngest ever English amateur champion at the age of just 16.

And the fact he knows what it takes to lift the title, makes him a dangerous opponent going into the six rounds of matchplay.

Scott Gregory (Corhampton) was another player to make the next stage with rounds of 74 and a fine level-par 71.

Gregory has enjoyed a productive season so far and recovered from a three-over par opening effort to play himself into the next stage.

Ben Wall (Hayling) and Adam Reid (Corhampton) were among those to bow out at the qualification stage.

n Mason Banger was unable to build on a promising start in the Carris Trophy as he ended in a tie for 40th place last week.

The Meon Valley youngster started with a solid two-over-par 74 in the first round of the under-18 amateur strokeplay event at Moor Park.

A second round 79 saw him make the cut but rounds of 77 and 76 left him at 18 over par for the tournament – 18 strokes adrift of eventual winner Haydn McCullen.