Now or never for Neil

Corhampton's Neil Raymond
Corhampton's Neil Raymond
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Brabazon Trophy winner Neil Raymond is hoping to use his professional tour debut to boost his claims for Walker Cup selection.

The Corhampton amateur has been rewarded with an invitation to the English Challenge at Stoke-by-Nayland after his victory in the English Amateur Strokeplay Championship last month.

The event is part of the European Challenge Tour, where Raymond may find himself playing more frequently next season as he prepares to head to the European Tour Qualifying School in September.

But before then, the 25-year-old, who is also due to play in the English Amateur Championship at Woburn next week, has his sights set on a place in the GB & Ireland team who will face the Americans in the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen on September 10 and 11.

The England Amateur international believes he can still gatecrash the team, especially after his Brabazon heroics.

However, he knows it will probably take one more strong showing, either this week or next, after Hertfordshire’s Tom Lewis confirmed he intends to stay as an amateur until the Walker Cup, following his Silver Medal win at The Open.

‘I still don’t think it is out of my grasp,’ said the plus-four handicapper from Titchfield Common.

‘There are enough events left that if I can put in some good performances I don’t think I can go unnoticed.

‘I’ve just got to keep playing well.

‘I can’t select the team, so I have just got to go out and play golf to the standard I know I can perform at.

‘If I do that, then I will give the selectors something to think about.’

Raymond is keeping his fingers crossed that a slight recurrence of the back injury that hampered his preparations for the 2011 season in Australia – forcing him to return home early – doesn’t hamper his plans. He also hopes it will withstand the competitiveness of the Amateur Championship, where he’ll be joined by fellow Walker Cup hopeful Darren Wright, Rowlands Castle’s Tom Robson and Hayling’s England under-16 international Colin Walsh.

Some 288 players will play two rounds on Woburn’s Marquess and Duchess courses on July 25 and 26, with the top 64 heading into the matchplay stages.

The last Hampshire player to claim the English Golf Union’s biggest honour was Lee-on-the-Solent’s Steve Richardson back in 1989 – at Royal St George’s.

And only three players wearing the county’s red rose have ever won the trophy in its 86-year history.

With the Walker Cup selection deadline date looming – after the Home Internationals in August and the Irish, Scottish and Welsh Amateur Championships also next week – it promises to be a crucial 10 days for Raymond.