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Amateur Championship: Storm whips up dazzling triumph

Derek Lawrenson watches an Englishman's landslide win at Royal County Down


FOR Graeme Storm, it was just about the perfect day. On a sun-blessed occasion at the finest golf course he has ever seen - or is likely to see, come to that - he claimed the Amateur Championship playing golf that for the most part was of a quality rarely seen in finals. His margin of victory over the gallant Aran Wainwright was 7 & 6.

With his mother once again caddy and in the company of friends who had taken the ferry overnight to get to Royal County Down's first tee on time, the 21-year-old from Wynyard in the North East collected not just the trophy but also the precious passports that go with it into the Open Championship and the Masters.

So, the man from the club situated in the grounds of the estate owned by 'Mr Newcastle', Sir John Hall, won the Amateur in the County Down town of Newcastle. Destiny: there is a lot of it about these days, isn't there?

In fact, Storm has a presence that suggests the headline writers will be having great fun with his name for years to come. Both the jauntiness of his walk and the expression on his face indicated he has that precious gift of being able to enjoy playing in front of a large crowd.

He has the game, too, and quite how the respective selectors of England and Great Britain and Ireland's Walker Cup squad have managed to overlook him thus far almost beggars belief. For this was hardly a one-off performance. Storm plays off plus-three, and last year broke no less than six course records during a summer of memorable play.

After a week when the weather has varied between the unpleasant and the positively malevolent, yesterday really was the calm after the storm. On such a day it is impossible to argue with the considerable number of golfers who believe this is the best spot to play in the British Isles.

The final lived up to the occasion as well. On the one hand we had Storm giving all his natural gifts an airing; on the other Wainwright, who looked like an amateur version of Olazabal in the manner in which he liberally missed fairways but rescued himself with some dazzling short game play.

Textbook examples came either side of the lunchtime break. Three poor shots up the par-five 18th had left Wainwright in a dreadful spot in a bunker, some 30 yards short of the flag. He was three down at the time and could hardly afford to lose another before the interval. Wainwright, from Garforth in north Yorkshire, came out to 10 ft and holed a gutsy putt. He did the same at the 19th and then won the 20th, just his second hole of the day, to see a glimmer of hope. Then came the pivotal passage of play. Needing a good drive to maintain momentum, Wainwright snap- hooked instead to gift-wrap the 21st to an opponent hardly in need of such charity. Storm then won the next two as well, the 23rd with a wonderful birdie, to establish an unwavering grip.

Thereafter, there were some tired holes played but always Storm had something in reserve. At the difficult ninth, the 27th hole in the final, he outdrove his opponent by 50 yards and then drilled a five iron to 10 ft for a birdie that brooked no argument, and got none.

After seven rounds of golf in five days to reach the final, it is hardly surprising that the two players left standing often fail to do themselves justice. Storm, however, proved the exception, perhaps helped by being only detained for 12 holes in his semi-final on Friday afternoon. He was round in 69 yesterday morning, which is supreme golf around a course of this difficulty.

Storm received his glittering prize from Sir Michael Bonallack, for whom this Amateur was his last as secretary of the Royal and Ancient. In July he will oversee his last Open, in September his final Walker Cup, and already the tributes have begun to flow for one of the game's more remarkable personalities.

The first congratulatory letter to arrive at HQ came complete with a Pedrena postmark, which was appropriate given that Opens involving Severiano Ballesteros provided Bonallack with both his warmest and direst memories as keeper of the flame.

The former was his first as secretary, on that golden July day at St Andrews in 1984 when Ballesteros was truly in his pomp. "The other one I will never forget was at Lytham four years later when Ballesteros won again. It was the year we had a day washed out through the weather, and it proved an administrative nightmare," he said.

County Down was the perfect setting to begin this final tour of duty. He is another to list it as his favourite course in these isles. It was here also, in 1970, that he achieved history as a player, becoming the first man to win the Amateur three years in a row. It was his fifth win in all, a tally exceeded only by John Ball back in the days when the Amateur was played merely by the few, not the many.

On Friday, local member Des Boyd presented Bonallack with a scrapbook of the occasion and at once a bridge was built spanning the generations. "I could not help but chuckle reading Leonard Crawley's report in The Daily Telegraph saying that I won my first-round match at the 12th in one hour 50 mins. I wish it was that pace now," he said.

In retirement he looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren, and embarking on a tour of Scotland to play some hidden gems, such as Boat-of-Garten and Ballater, down the eastern coast.

For Storm, meanwhile, the courses in prospect have more familiar names. Like Carnoustie in July. And Augusta next April.

Electronic Telegraph 6th June 1999