Hampshire regained the South Division title to book a place in the Daily Telegraph South East League Final by beating arch-rivals Surrey in a tense hard-fought match at a baked Liphook GC.
The hosts beat Surrey at Basingstoke two years ago and Neil Raymond and Harry Ellis then drove all the way from Scotland after playing in the Home Internationals to play in the decider against Kent at The Army GC, in Aldershot.
This time it was beaten English Amateur finalist Scott Gregory, who drove all the way from North Devon straight after Saturday’s final, to be ready to face a potential 36 holes for the fourth day in a row and to play for the eighth day in a row.
Gregory was even first to arrive at the course bright and early for the hour long warm-up the cream of the county’s amateurs go through.
And having lost the title won by past captain Richard Elmes in 2012, fellow Stoneham member Steve Williams was keen for his charges to claim the title back in his first season as Elmes’ successor.
Things could not have started much worse for the latest young star to come off the Hampshire production line that has included names like Steve Richardson, Richard Bland, Matt Blackey, Justin Rose, David Porter, Sam Hutsby, Darren Wright and of course Harry Ellis, an English champion at just 16.
Gregory, 19, had been playing on seaside links greens for a whole week and while the putting surfaces were just as slick at Liphook, the East Hampshire greens were a lot quicker.
The Corhampton ace really struggled to get the speed right, particularly on the front nine, leaving his partner with some difficult returns for par.
He was playing with Hayling’s Darren Walkley and they found themselves five down after nine against former Hampshire junior Tom Neve and Liam Cox.
Even though Gregory and Walkley rallied they lost the third match out 3&2 after Brokenhurst Manor’s Martin Young and Rowlands Castle’s Tom Robson had given the hosts a perfect start, beating English Amateur quarter-finalist Oscar Granstrom-Livesey and former England international David Ryles on the last by one.
Ellis, from Meon Valley G&CC, held on for a half with Ryan Henley, from Stoneham, but defeat for Royal Jersey’s Gavin O’Neil and Blackmoor’s Mark Burgess in the bottom match gave Surrey a slender 2.5-1.5 lead at lunch.
Robson had a tremendous tussle with Granstrom-Livesey, the current Surrey champion, and a birdie at short par three first was the perfect start in the top singles match.
But his tall opponent rattled off the next four holes to leave Robson three down after five.
But on the course where he won the Hampshire county crown in 2009, he came roaring back to birdie 15, 16 and 17 to close out a vital point after Young had cantered in y beating Neve 5&4 to put his team in front playing second out.
Williams was left to pace the fairways nervously as Ellis beat past Surrey captain Mark Booker 3&2, despite making a mess of the 16th when he airmailed the green from just over 100 yards, but Henley lost by two to Ryles, a British Amateur semi-finalist at Hoylake back in 2000.
Gregory was two down after eight as tiredness began to creep in, but he won three holes in a row from the 12th and closed the door on a 2&1 win with a par on the short 17th.
That left Hampshire, Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands needing one point from the remaining three matches.
And after Burgess extended his match on 17, while he was playing the last against Surrey captain David Corben, Walkley, who made his county debut in May at Weymouth, beat veteran Scott Crockett 3&2 to claim the match and the title, O’Neil’s 3&2 loss in the last match made it 6.5-5.5 as Burgess was also beaten on the last but those defeats could not derail Hampshire as the title was won right next to the Portsmouth Waterloo line that divides the course.
Hampshire will now face the eventual North Division winners in the final at The Warren, in Essex, October.