Sussex and Lancashire took the honours on the opening day of the English Senior Men’s County Finals – in sharply contrasting matches in glorious autumn sunshine at Stanton-on-the-Wolds Golf Club, Nottinghamshire.
Sussex scythed through their opposition, conceding virtually nothing as they defeated Dorset 8.5-0.5. Lancashire, however, were thoroughly tested before they could celebrate a hard fought 5-4 victory over the host county, Nottinghamshire.
Sussex were the 2017 runners-up in this championship - and still count the cost of a narrow first day defeat which left them just too much to do. What a difference a year makes!
Twelve months ago they were slow to get started and gleaned only half a point in the singles. Today they shot off the blocks, winning all three foursomes by very convincing margins. Martin King and Mark Logan led the way with their 6/5 win and they were followed by the pairings of Steve Graham and Martin Galway and Colin Jones and Doug Park, who both won 4/3.
They carried the momentum into the afternoon singles, simply sweeping aside the opposition. Anchorman Malcolm Cawte beat par as he cruised to his 5/4 win, while Steve Graham (3/2) and Doug Park (4/3) were solid at the top of the order.
With the win safely in the bag the team then pushed on to acquire as many game points as possible and, in an impressive singles performance, conceded just a half to Dorset’s John Smith.
Team captain Rick Thomas welcomed the result, but sounded a note of caution. “It’s never easy and often when you see a result like this it belies what actually goes on. There’s always a stage in every match where it could go either way.”
He added: “There’s a long road to travel and this is just one step in the right direction. The boys are delighted but they all recognise there’s a long way to go.”
By contrast, Lancashire had to fight every step of the way against Nottinghamshire and the battling theme of the day became clear in the foursomes.
Nottinghamshire posted the first point, with a comfortable 5/4 win by Ian Gretton and Nigel Furniss. But the other two games were both halved, with Notts hauling Lancashire back in one and vice versa in the other. Advantage Nottinghamshire, 2-1 at lunch.
As the singles got underway the match continued to ebb and flow and, for much of the afternoon, it looked as though the host county would squeeze home as narrow winners.
The first points were shared. Tony Flanagan shot two-under to win 7/6 for Lancashire. Charles Banks, a past winner of the Brabazon Trophy and an honorary member of Stanton-on-the-Wolds, responded with his 5/4 win.
But gradually Lancashire found the edge: British Senior Champion Trevor Foster won 4/3 and was soon followed by Bryan Hughes, the 2017 Senior Champion, who won 3/1 and took Lancashire ahead in the match for the first time.
They needed just one more point for victory and it was delivered by Tony Holt who got up in his game for the first time on the 17th and went on to win the 18th to finish 2up. The final game went Nottinghamshire’s way, also finishing on the 18th.
The Lancashire team is known for its ability to dig deep for winning results. They came through the regional qualifier for this event thanks to an eagle from Ian Crowther and a birdie from Bryan Hughes, both on the last hole.
Team captain Mike Gray commented: “They have put me through the mill every match this season, but every match they have come through. They don’t know the meaning of defeat.”
Tomorrow Sussex play Nottinghamshire and Lancashire play Dorset.
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Caption: All smiles at the end of the game – Lancashire’s Bryan Hughes (right) and Nottinghamshire’s Ian Gretton.
Image copyright Leaderboard Photography