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England Golf Have Its Eyes On Horsfield

by Colin Callander - January 27, 2014

Last summer Ian Poulter caused a bit of a stir when he suggested that little-known English-born teenager Sam Horsfield should be included in the GB&I team for the 2013 Walker Cup match at the National Golf Links of America.

The Florida-based Horsfield was only 16 at the time but the Ryder Cup player was adamant that he would not be out of place in what is the world’s most prestigious amateur team contest.

“I first met Sam four years ago and he is without doubt the best young golfer I have ever seen,” said Poulter. “He already hits the ball as long as me and when he decides to come out on tour he’s going to be the real deal.

“I never played Walker Cup as an amateur so I don’t know what the selection process is ... but if he doesn’t play in the match this year it will be criminal,” he added. “They will be off their rockers not to pick him.”

Poulter received a certain amount of ridicule as a result of those comments but even his harshest critics will agree that his judgment looks much more sound now that Horsfield has moved up to No. 6 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking after a string of fine results, including victories in last year’s Florida State Amateur and the recent New Year’s Invitational at St Petersburg Country Club. In the latter he closed with a 2-under-par 70 for a 13-under-par total of 275 and joined the likes of J.B. Holmes (2003) and Brandt Snedeker (2004) as a winner of that event.

Horsfield, born in Manchester, has not lived in England since he moved to the States with his family as a 4-year-old, but that has not stopped England Golf showing a keen interest in his progress.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on him,” admitted England Golf’s performance director Nigel Edwards, who only last week was reinstalled as GB&I Walker Cup captain for a record third match in a row. “Last year we were in touch with his family. They were good enough to send us his schedule and we’ve asked for the same information again.

“I see there’s an American lag alongside his name on the world rankings so we need to check his availability but we’re obviously interested in him just as we would be with anyone else of his calibre.

“He’s built up a very impressive CV in a short space of time.”

Horsfield’s next chance to make an impression comes at this week’s Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club at Sea Island, Georgia, where he will be up against a strong field containing many of the top names in both the US and European amateur games.

The home challenge is headed by world No. 2 Cory Whitsett, No. 8 Scottie Schefler and No. 12 Michael Weaver. There is also a place for Chase Koepka, who is the younger brother of rising European Tour star Brooks Koepka and plays out of the University of South Florida.

England Golf have named four US-based players in their oficial squad for the tournament and Seb Crookhall-Nixon (University of San Francisco), Greg Eason (Central Florida), Ben Stow (Kentucky) and Ben Taylor (Nova Southeastern) will be joined by reigning Amateur champion Garrick Porteous, who makes the trip across the Atlantic under his own steam.

Scotland’s Ewan Scott, in his first year at the University of Tennessee, got into the event the hard way after carding a 69 to finish tied second in last week’s qualifying event. Welsh duo David Boote (Stanford) and Richard James (South Florida) also start as does Irish Walker Cup player Gavin Moynihan, a freshman at the University of Alabama. The Continental challengers include France’s Julien Brun, Denmark’s Sebastian Cappelen and Emilio Cuartero from Spain.

The Jones Cup Invitational was inaugurated in 2001 and has developed into one of the most prestigious events on the US amateur calendar. D.J. Trahan (2001) and Kyle Stanley (’09) both have won the event while past participants also include Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson.

Last season the event was won by Sean Dale, from Jacksonville, Florida, who carded rounds of 71, 73 and 69 to finish two shots ahead of compatriots Whitsett and Alex Carpenter. Rowin Caron from the Netherlands was the leading foreign player in a share of fourth place while English duo Jack Hiluta (T6) and Stow (T9) also secured places in the top 10.

This week more than 20 of GB&I’s best women players will travel to the Montado Golf Resort, 30 minutes south of Lisbon, to compete in the Portuguese Ladies Amateur.

The championship signals the start of the 2014 season here in Europe and also gives the GB&I players their first opportunity to make a mark in what is a Curtis Cup year.

This year’s Portuguese Championship has attracted a strong field from all over Europe with Spaniards Natalia Escuriola and Luna Sobrón the highest-ranked players at 22nd and 24th on the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

The Spanish duo will be bidding to succeed compatriot Clara Baena Sanchez as champion but they will have to overcome a formidable group from England. It includes reigning national champion Sarah-Jane Boyd, 2013 England Golf Order of Merit winner Alex Peters and 2013 Girls’ Order of Merit leader Gabby Cowley. They will be backed by Charlotte Austin and a gaggle of talented teenagers including Annabel Dimmock, Sam Fuller, Inci Mehmet, Sophie Madden and Emily Slatter.

Dimmock, a 17-year-old international from Wentworth Club in Surrey, travels straight to Portugal from the Orange Blossom Tour in Florida, where she finished second behind Canadian Brooke Henderson in the South Atlantic Amateur Championship at Oceanside Country Club and then won the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Cup at Coral Ridge Country Club.

Welsh international Chloe Williams, who finished third at the Sally, and Scots Eilidh Briggs, Lauren Whyte and Alyson McKechin also started their 2014 campaign on the other side of the Atlantic. They tee up at Montado alongside another talented Welsh international, Becky Harries, and a strong Irish contingent headed by national champion Paula Grant and also including girls’ champion Olivia Mehaffey, Mary Doyle and Emma O’Driscoll.

For the first time, all the GB&I players will know exactly what they have to do to get into the Curtis Cup team following the LGU’s decision to implement a new selection process that gives preference to players at the top of the WWAGR and the LGU’s own Order of Merit.

This year’s team will comprise the top four GB&I players on the WWAGR, the top two (not already selected from the WWAGR) on the LGU Order of Merit plus two picks. The cutoff point comes after the Welsh Open Stroke Play Championship on May 4, with the team being announced on May 6.

The new system has been implemented to take account of the fact that the top GB&I players now compete all around the world.

“The players themselves have also been asking for more information on how they can position themselves for consideration for a Curtis Cup place,” added LGU Chairman Trish Wilson.

The system has been warmly welcomed by captain Tegwen Matthews, who will be bidding June 6-8 in St. Louis for a second successive victory against the Americans.

“This new selection process introduces a greater level of clarity and fairness and will be welcomed by the players,” she said. “They’ll know exactly what they have to do to play their way onto the team.”

Matthews knows that Stephanie Meadow (ranked fourth in the world), Bronte Law (34th) and Leona Maguire (91st) are the only three members of her victorious 2012 side still available for selection. There are severe doubts about the availability of ninth-ranked Georgia Hall, who late last year indicated in an interview with the Bournemouth Daily Echo that she planned to turn professional on her 18th birthday in March. The LGU subsequently has heard nothing more from the reigning British Ladies’ Amateur champion.

“We noted a while back that Georgia had said she would be turning professional on her 18th birthday in March but we haven’t heard anything since,” confirmed the LGU’s CEO Shona Malcolm.

“We have contacted all the leading contenders to ascertain their availability for the match. I think we asked them to respond by the end of this month but we haven’t heard from Georgia yet.”

As things stand at the moment the top four GB&I players on the WWAGR are Meadow, Hall, Law and Charlotte Thomas (48th) with Williams (50th), Hayley Davis (56th) and Cowley (71st) as their nearest challengers. As I write the top two not otherwise qualified from the LGU Order of Merit would be Cowley and Lisa Maguire with Meghan MacLaren, Peters, Leona Maguire and Grant just behind them.

England got its 2014 season off to a successful start when its boys’ team won the annual Quadrilateral match at Costa Ballena in Spain, forcing the hosts into second place.

The English beat Finland, 6-3, and Germany, 7-2, but then lost, 5½-3½, to the hosts before being confirmed as the winner by just half a point in what was an exact reversal of the result of 12 months ago.

Spain had beaten Germany, 6½- 2½, on the opening day but then lost, 5-4, to Finland, which was to cost them dear the following day.

England’s victory was based on a strong team performance in which all six members earned at least three points out of six for their country’s cause. Oxley Park’s Robert Burlison led the way with five points out of six while Paul Kinnear from Formby accumulated just half a point less. Both 2013 Carris Trophy winner Ben Amor (Marlborough) and Adam Chapman (Windermere) emerged with four points out of six in the foursomes and singles competition.

England’s win was the first for eight years and ended a sequence that had seen them finish runner-up six times during that period, including that tantalising defeat 12 months ago.

“Chicken dinner for the boys!!!,” tweeted a delighted Chapman just minutes after the win. “Haven’t won it for 8 years but we have now!!! What a week!!!”

Spain’s Mario Galiano and Ivan Cantero both emerged with six points out of six as they finished second on points ahead of Finland. The Finns’ leading player was 2013 Lytham Trophy winner Albert Eckhardt, won claimed four points out of six as they beat both Spain and Germany. An inexperienced German squad finished last after accumulating just seven points during their three defeats. Tim Bombosch was their top scorer with three points.

France’s Mathilda Cappeliez and Italy’s Virginia Carta were the leading European performers at the recent AJGA Annika Invitational at the Reunion Resort in Florida.

The 16-year-old international from Evian put together rounds of 73, 73 and 72 while Carta posted 74, 73 and 71 to claim a share of sixth place alongside America’s Bailey Tardy on 2-over-par 218. That left the pair nine shots behind Californian Bethany Wu, who defended her title in style by firing rounds of 68, 68 and 71 to claim an eight-shot victory on 9-under-par 207.

England international Alice Hewson, from Berkhamsted, was the only GB&I player in this year’s field. The current Scottish Under-16 champion opened with a 79 and then added rounds of 70 and 78 to finish in a tie for 33rd place on 227.

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