Walkley packs a punch as he merits top prize

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Scott Gregory. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Gregory: None of the pros care I won British Amateur

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Darren Walkley has made history by becoming the first ever winner of the Hampshire Isle of Wight and Channel Island Golf Union Order of Merit title.

A battle appeared to be brewing in the Courage Trophy showdown held at Brokenhurst Manor.

Southampton-based amateur Lee Russell was struggling to regain the top spot he held for more than two months after a late charge by man-of-the-summer Scott Gregory.

But the 19-year-old, who lost in the final of the English Amateur Championship in North Devon at the beginning of August, was forced to withdraw from the final counting event after 18 holes due to illness.

That meant the new trophy, based around the top nine scratch events in the county, seemed destined to be heading to Hayling.

Ben Wall moved into pole position in the race but Walkley snuck into sixth place, with rounds of 69 and 72, to deny his county team-mate and fellow Hayling member.

While all the attention was centred on eventual Courage winner Martin Young, from the host club, who completed the county’s first-ever grand slam in some 50 years – simultaneously holding Hampshire’s top five trophies all in the same season – the 44-year-old former England A squad player was unable to catch the county’s young pretenders at the top of the Order of Merit table.

Walkley was officially declared the winner 24 hours later – once the final points were awarded to the top 10 in the Cole Scuttle, the trophy awarded for the best 72-hole aggregate in the Courage and the County Championship qualifier held at Hockley, in June.

And the eight points earned in the Scuttle tipped the scales Walkley’s way as he finally finished four points ahead of Wall, who could only finish 12th in the Courage and earned five points from his Scuttle total to deny Gregory the runners-up spot by one-and-a-half points.

Walkley believes the switch to Hayling has been crucial for his game.

He said: ‘Three years ago I was playing off seven at Southsea before I moved to Hayling.

‘The golf course has helped transform my game – along with all the hard work, with my coach Mark Treleaven, the head pro at Hayling. I am now down to plus-three.

‘Two years ago, I lost a play-off with Martin Young at Hayling, in the Courage.

‘It was the day after Harry Ellis won the English Amateur as a 16-year-old.

‘I was very nervous and had a putt to win.

‘But it gave me a taste of competing with the top players in Hampshire and I set about proving it was not a one-off. I don’t think many of the county players knew who I was.

‘Now I have won the Order of Merit, been picked for every county game in the league and against the Channel Islands and the Hampshire PGA, and was a member of the team that went to the South East Qualifiers and only just lost out to Surrey.’

Walkley celebrated his triumph by beating Surrey captain David Corben to win Hindhead’s Devil’s Punch Bowl, one of Surrey’s leading events in their own Order of Merit.

Two birdies in his last six holes on Sunday saw him win on countback.

The 36-hole contest was reduced to 18 holes after a morning delay caused by fog swirling around the Surrey Hills.

Walkley added: ‘I holed a 20-footer on the 15th and made the up-and-down of my life to make a four from 15 feet at the par five.’