After taking up multiple column inches celebrating the success of the 2018 Hewitt, it is only right that we do report on the 2019 efforts, if only seeking to take up far less in the form of celebratory glow.
This yearÕs effort was disappointing. One of the best teams that Winchester has fielded, and defending champions no less came up against some challenges and conditions that they were unable to navigate and ultimately were knocked out in the second round, in a match that we should and could have won had we played to our potential. That we were beaten by a resurgent Malven who went on to win the event some 50 hours later is a source of comfort and frustration in equal measure.
We were drawn at Sandwich against Liverpool on the Friday. Somewhat of an unknown quantity, hopes were high and the team were eager for the off. We had practiced well at Princes the day before, all feeling that games were at B+ level, waiting for the pressure of competition to really move the games forward.
At 7.45am, with a strong Easterly wind, the conditions were bitter. Added to that, the greens were slick and firm. Errant shots, pushed into strange places by an unfamiliar wind were punished. Escaping from mistakes was going to be challengingÉ this would be a day for the old-fashioned golfers who kept the ball low to the ground and holed out nervelessly from 6 and 8 feet. This didnÕt feel like the recipe card that Winchester had followed to success in 2018 where almighty ball striking and conservative long putting at Deal had put opponents to the sword. Did we have the other way of getting it done?
Players and supporters were wrapped up braced for an Arctic walk. High quality top pair of Consul and Varkey, D lead the way against a Liverpudlian sacrifice (I thought only Winchester were good at getting the order right?!). The Winchester top pair had a an aggregate 16 shot handicap difference but such were the conditions that this only resulted in a 3/2 victory Ð albeit very comfortably. Buckley / Lewis and Holt / Keating got off to slow starts Ð pair 2 were 4 down through 9 and pair 3 finding themselves 4 down through 5. Not quite what the team orders had directed. Thankfully the back two pairs seemed in controlÉ As the match rounded the turn, Buckley and Lewis turned on the class and clawed back the deficit.
Four down after nine, TimÕs second to the 10th finds a plugged lie in the back left bunker. Oppo relieved at a potential five-up opportunity, although their ball is lying pin-high in the right rough. Downwind and downhill, Paddy hits a career bunker shot which lands on the apron and runs down to four feet. Oppo hits a thin press (who wouldnÕt?) and concede moments later having not been able to do better than a six. Very similar narrative on the next and Wykeham quickly back to 2 down on the 12th tee having not had to make a putt!
12 was remarkable for Paddy hitting to 8 feet from TimÕs scuffed one Ð horrid, downhill lie, to be honest Ð and Tim holing an Ôever-so-grittyÕ putt for a momentum-sustaining half in four. They lose 13, out of sight but regain 2 down with a classy four on 14.
On 15, Paddy faces a 200 yard Rescue club from the right rough. Great line in if he makes solid contact, which he does, the ball sailing onto the green and leaving Tim with a 30 foot putt for birdie. Which he makes! Unerring. OppoÕs chance of an equalling three grazes the hole. Top stuff.
One down, and Paddy has a three footer for par and the win on 16, which just escapes.
Holes halved in four down 17 and on to 18 one down. Tim hits a super-classy shot into the back of the green and with oppo failing to make par, Paddy holes nervelessly to take the match into extra holes.
Match extended down 20 by Paddy holing from four feet on 19 this time, and a half (tie in factÉ) declared on 20.
All in all, a very bonding effort from Tim and Paddy playing together in the heat of battle for the first time and with single putts on four out of the last six holes played.
With the bottom two matches ahead, it looked like Winchester would earn the quick win that we had targeted especially with another tough game due that afternoon. However, Sanders and Cameron found their own lead whittled away through a combination of Winchester errors (of which, more to come) and a strong Liverpool fightback including a delightful birdie 2 at 16. As the pressure built, Cameron delivered a stirring long iron into 18 from 205 yards to the heart of the green. Sanders, faced with a huge breaking putt, rolled it dead to close out the match; allowing Winchester to take a hefty sigh of relief and enjoy a well-earned lunch.
One other hole worthy of recounting from the morning was Sanders/Cameron on 6 in the morning where Richard nearly holed off the tee, leaving JC with a sneaky 6 foot downhill putt. Liverpool look dead in the mid right bunker up against the lip. But this is the Hewitt of course and Liverpool holes from the bunker for a two. JC, showing all the class that heÕs done the previous year, reads and executes the putt beautifully for a half. Incidentally, Richard and JC also make a birdie on 6 in the afternoon to recapture an all square position having been three down after three. The momentum was with us at that stage.
We were surprised that Malvern had beaten Marlborough, the latter of whom had been the HonSecÕs dark horses to come through this quarter of the draw. Perhaps this should have been the first warning.
A 2.15 tee time was brought forward by the starter who spotted ready golfers and a gap in the course. Holt & Keating were restored to the top of the order and got off to a fast start (very different to the AM) with Holt rolling in a 35 footer at 1. Some good golf Ð to their potential Ð saw them get to 3 up through 9. Other pairs were also going nicely, with 4 pairs up at the turn.
Then struck an hour that will want to be forgotten as 4 out of 5 pairs (Jay Varkey and Tom Hawkings are excused from the naughty step) contrived to lose at least 3 holes in a row between the 10th tee and the 15th green. What had looked like a comfortable position for Winchester had turned into a nightmare scenario Ð 4 pairs losing and none looking like they were playing well. The cold wind had sent shivers down the spine of the OWGS faithful.
Holt & Keating rallied Ð they got a hole back at 15 to go back to all square and then finished with 3 pars to take the match to extra holes. Gutsy putts were made at 16 and 18. Holt then launched a booming drive down the 19th that meant that Keating had no more than a flick Ð Malvern were 150 yards back in a tough lie. Could this be a point so dreadfully needed?
However, news from behind was not good. Malvern turned on the style, with the number 4 pair closing out Consul and Dino Varkey with a birdie at 17 and suddenly the whole match was over. It was a flukey 3 that buried them on 17 with oppo clearly mishitting their approach before holing from 40 feet for a winning 3.
Hawkings and Jay Varkey picked up to take a half to maintain their own unbeaten run. They played well throughout and didnÕt lose a string of holes. They had been 1 up, lost 14 to a 4 and were all square when the end came suddenly
Within the disappointment, Winchester did play some classy golf, much of it came from Consul and Dino VarkeyÉ. A putt from Consul on 7 from c 10 feet which just died into the hole; he then did exactly the same on 15 to cap a very classy up and down from the front bunker. Good bunker shot from Dino. But the Claudio shot that made the crowd gasp was a flop from the right-hand side of 10 in the rough. This was the place from which Liverpool had thinned in the morning Ð just nowhere to land it short and let it run downÉ Anyway, Claudio throws the ball up into the air from c 30ft and it lands dead without rolling an inch barely six inches away. Quality.
The team trudged back reflecting on a really disappointing afternoon where a winning position had been allowed to slip away in the space of an hour. Our mood was also shared by Epsom and Eton who were also knocked out. This meant that 3 of the top 5 teams in the competition had been knocked out in a torrid day at Sandwich for the favourites. As Nick Owen (Hon Sec of the PSGS) wrote ÒThe late great Gerald Micklem used to say that the key to a successful Hewitt was firstly to get rid of the holders and then to get rid of Eton. Both happened on day two of this yearÕs HewittÓ.
Whilst we must acknowledge that every team can have a poor day, this was a disappointing outcome. Winchester have progressed in recent years through the portfolio effect; when 1 or 2 pairs have struggled the others have pulled through to win the tie. Here we saw all 5 pairs struggle around the same point and then fail to arrest the slip. No doubt conditions played a part and perhaps did not suit our games but the post mortem will look wider than blaming purely external factors! The key however is that Winchester let Malvern in with 4 pairs leaking holes around 10 – 14 and, once ahead, the Malvern team played well and held its nerve showing the resilience that saw them win from losing positions later in the tournament against Rugby in round 3 (3 down with 3 to play in the deciding match) as well as in the final
We must also recognise and congratulate the fantastic overall efforts of Malvern as winners of the competition. 5 times losers in the 1st round over recent years, they have come back and won the Hewitt for the second time. They are a wonderful bunch and we are delighted to celebrate their success. But their subsequent showing puts our defeat into a better light than seemed the case on Friday and we remain in the top 5 teams in the tournament based on our strong performances over the past 5 years
They beat Ampleforth who were runners-up for the third year in a row; this time the final match being decided on the 23rd hole. You must feel for them.