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Raymond ready to take on USA
Neil Raymond is preparing to write the final chapter of a glittering amateur career by competing in the Walker Cup next week.
The 27-year-old will represent Great Britain & Ireland in the famous competition, as they look to retain the coveted trophy against the United States at the National Golf Links of America.
It will be a moment that marks the final step on Raymond’s remarkable and fascinating path to the pinnacle of the amateur game.
When he was 18, all of this would have seemed a mere fantasy.
Back then, Raymond was working part-time in the Corhampton pro shop and was playing off a handicap of five. Representing his county, let alone his country, was some way off.
It would be another few years before Raymond reached scratch, and it wasn’t until 2008 that he made his debut for the Hampshire first-team.
Now, though, he stands as one of the finest amateur players in world golf.
“I climbed the ladder what I would call properly,” said Raymond, who will be in action for GB&I next weekend. “I didn’t play boys’ golf, so I missed that, but as a man I climbed the ladder rung by rung, and I think I gained the experiences I needed through doing that.
“Playing Walker Cup will cap it off perfectly.”
Raymond’s progression over the last few years has been quite astonishing.
He first began to show signs of serious promise in 2010, when he lifted the Parman Cup, at St Mellion, in Cornwall, describing it at the time as the first “big event” he had won.
His England debut would follow later that year, when he finished as runner-up in the Czech Amateur.
Raymond’s real breakthrough then arrived in 2011 when he won the Brabazon Trophy – the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
It was a win that thrust him into the discussion for that year’s Walker Cup. However, the Hampshire ace would be overlooked.
“It was pretty gutting,” he said. “But, if I’m honest, hand on heart now, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, not getting selected.
“It gave me the push I needed to work harder, and I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew where I wanted to be.
“Had I played, I probably would have turned pro, and got on the turning pro bandwagon that everyone does after the Walker Cup, and it would have been the worst thing I could have done.
“My game wasn’t ready and my experiences weren’t great enough.”
Raymond, who will turn pro after this year’s Walker Cup, also credits former Hampshire amateur and ex-European Tour player Matt Blackey, who works for TayorMade, for keeping him grounded at that point.
“He really gave it to me straight, and said ‘Look, you’re not good enough to turn pro,’ and as brutal as that sounds that’s exactly what I needed to hear,” explained Raymond. “He was honest and he’s never been anything but.
“There’s no point turning pro and falling by the wayside, like a few guys have done in the past.
Hard work “He said ‘Get your experience more with England, there’s a lot to be played still.’ I’d never played Europeans, I’d never played Worlds, I’d never represented GB&I. So, for the next year, I really grinded.”
The hard work paid off, with Raymond retaining the Brabazon and representing GB&I against Europe in the St Andrews Trophy in 2012. He then made it to the final of the Spanish Amateur this year, before winning the St Andrews Links Trophy and reaching the quarter-finals of both the British and US Amateur, the latter of which he topped the stroke play qualifying in.
Even with all that success, though, Raymond insisted he was never certain that he would make it into the Walker Cup team until captain Nigel Edwards phoned to tell him the good news.
“I never thought I was in,” he said. “It was just relief when I heard. It’s something that, until I had that phone call, I was always a little bit ‘will I or won’t I?’ “Just hearing it, it was almost like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It’s something I’ve worked for, but now the work starts again. That phone call lasted five minutes and as soon as it came it was ‘What can I do to fully prepare for the Walker Cup?’ Now, we’re back to preparation mode.”
Helping with that is Raymond’s long-time coach, Ian Roper, who gave him that job at Corhampton and then began teaching him.
“Me and Ian have done thousands of hours on the range, getting my swing and my golf game to where I want it to be, and where we believe it can be, to make some serious things happen,” he said.
“He’s been at my beck and call for nine years now. He’s never once said no to a lesson, he comes and watches me play tournaments as much as he can. He’s someone I’ve been so close to for nine years.
“I booked him a flight to New York for the Wednesday, so he’s out there for a couple of days’ prep with me as well, which will be great.”
As well as Roper, Blackey, TaylorMade and the people at Corhampton, there are some other special people who Raymond insists none of his success could have been achieved without.
“This adventure I’ve been on for the last four or five years as an amateur would not be possible without the help of my parents and my family,” said Raymond of his dad Paul, mum Pauline, and sister Hayley.
“They’ve given me the opportunity to do this, both financially and supportively, and everyone around me and close to me has been fantastic and really helped me to become the player I want to become.”
Ironically, Southampton-born Raymond’s journey in amateur golf will actually finish in Southampton, albeit the New York variety where the National Golf Links of America is based, rather than the Hampshire one.
The squad flew out last Wednesday, ahead of practise at Pine Valley, Bayonne, Shinnecock Hills and the host venue.
The players were also due to be treated to a night of US Open tennis, at Flushing Meadows.
While that promises to be an enjoyable distraction for a few hours, Raymond has no intention of allowing his focus to be diverted from the goal of winning the trophy.
Professional “You’re there to do a job and not get wrapped up in everything else that’s going on around you,” he said.
“When you finish, by all means milk it all and take it in, but for the time the Walker Cup is on it’s going to be work time, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
After the event finishes, Raymond will join the professional ranks. He has already signed an agreement with the 4Sports & Entertainment management company, who used to represent Justin Rose and who also look after Raymond’s former Hampshire colleague Darren Wright.
“4Sports were recommended to me by a few people,” he said. “For me, it was an easy decision for who I was going to go with.”
Raymond will begin life as a pro by playing in events across Europe, before competing in European Tour qualifying school towards the end of the year.
“I’m just going to try and get Walker Cup played and concentrate on that and then we’re going to see where we are,” he said.
“Hopefully with a good Walker Cup I’ll maybe get a few invites. But Tour School’s going to be the big thing for me.
“I’ll be going there beginning of October, and if I do well there then the events look after themselves.
“I don’t want to rely on invites, because that makes it a pretty unsure schedule. I’d rather earn it the right way.”
Given his history in the amateur ranks, it would be no surprise if Raymond did just that.
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