Friday 29th March 2019

Stirling retain Charles McNeill Trophy after scare from clubmates

The University of Stirling 1st team retained the Charles McNeill Trophy after an absorbing Men’s Team Matchplay Championship Final

The final of the Scottish Students Team Matchplay Golf got underway this morning under crisp conditions on Moray GC Old Course.

The combatants: two teams of quality golfing compatriots from the University of Stirling

At stake: The Charles McNeill Trophy, SSS medals, and a whole lot of pride.

Four morning foursomes ties would go a long way to determining the direction of the match and by a third of the way through the round things were already developing intriguingly. Stirling’s first pair of Jean De Wouters and Jordan Sundborg had been ahead early on but had trouble at the fifth to drop back to all square against the grinding Black and Decker.

In match two the experienced pair of Michael Lawrie and Mark Napier got their noses in front early and would prove difficult to dislodge, despite the best efforts of Matthew Fitzsimons and James Kempster, on a day where par was always a good score.

Meanwhile the Stirling II pair of Scott MacPherson and Matthew Bell came flying out of the traps and established an early lead against Alasdair McDougall and Harvey Talarczyk – stretching to three up thanks to a 3 at the sixth.

In the final match the 2’s pair of Daniel Morris and Jack Forgan also started the stronger and were two up on Rob Foley and Colin Edgar when their opponents failed to par the 5th.

The middle stage of the round proved significant for three of the matches, as leads were steadily built around the tighter sections of the course. Sundborg and De Wouters won the 10th and 11th with pars to established a 3 hole cushion. The gap widened to four holes after the 14th and it seemed like impending doom for Black and Decker only for them to rally back by winning 15 and 16 with excellent birdies.

However, their resistance finally crumbled at the 17th when their third consecutive birdie was coolly matched and the game finished in a 2&1 win for Stirling I.

In the second tie a visit to the water by Fitzsimons at the 12th resulted in a hole loss and put the Stirling II duo two holes behind. After halves at 13 and 14 a dropped shot at the 15th cost Matthew and James dearly and they slipped to 3 down. A gamble at the short par 4 16th didn’t pay off for the embattled Stirling II pair and they would ultimately succumb by a score of 4&2.

The third match proved the highlight for the underdogs, with Stirling II’s Scott Macpherson and Matthew Bell in inspirational form against McDougall and Talarczyk. Their three hole lead became four when a par was good enough to win the 10th and from then they never looked back – depriving their lofty opponents of any real momentum as the back nine panned out. A moment of levity for Stirling I at the 11th was soon cancelled out at the next and thereafter it was a case of gliding home. All was said and done at the 14th hole where a par was good enough to get Stirling II their first point of the day by a compelling score of 5&4.

Thus attention turned to the final group, with the prospect of an even match at lunch to sharpen the focus. Morris and Forgan combined brilliantly at the 9th to make a three from an impossible position in the back bunker and end the front nine 1 up. This came amidst a series of error strewn holes, and the 10th, 11th and 12th were all won with pars in a run of tit-for-tat holes. Thirteen was halved in good pars but when Daniel Morris’ approach to the 14th drifted slightly on the wind and proved impossible to find, the Stirling I pair of Edgar and Foley could sense an important breakthrough. A par was enough to win the hole and they would enter the final four holes with a slender 1-hole lead.

Both pairs made good pars at 15, each scared the hole for birdie on 16 without any luck, and the seventeenth was halved in four after two outstanding long range approach shots threatened the hole before gliding well past.

Stirling II came a whisker from finding the birdie they sought at 18, when Jack Forgan putted from the back of the green, but the ball stayed agonisingly just wide of the hole, allowing Rob Foley to cosy a similar shot down to the hole-side and seal the narrowest of victories.

Thus an immersive morning of golf ended with a two point cushion for the favourites Stirling I over what would prove a very cordial lunch.

After morning foursomes

STIRLING I           3              1              STIRLING II

The afternoon singles must have appeared like something of an uphill struggle for the underdog second team, who knew that they needed to find 5.5 points out of 8 against their first team colleagues.

Nevertheless the plucky 2’s set out with stout hearts and bold spirits, buoyed by the prospect of a famous and historic win.

There was no hanging about as the eight matches took to the course at six minute intervals, and two by two the golfers stepped out purposefully into what was, for some of them, their 10th competitive round in six days.

By the turn there was a fascinating picture emerging, as Stirling II crept into a projected victory position through sheer determination and good play.

Daniel Morris took a slender advantage against Jordan Sundborg with a birdie at 6, whilst behind him Oliver Bailey was also in trouble, dropping behind to Angus Bendell when the 2’s man birdied the 10th.

Matthew Fitzsimons rocketed to a four hole advantage against Alasdair McDougall by the tenth, seemingly finding some renewed vigour from somewhere despite the long week of golf.

The Stirling I middle order of Lawrie and Napier, who had combined so effectively in the morning, provided a bit of much needed steel, getting to the back nine 3up and 6 up respectively against Matthew Bell and James Kempster.

However there was more to think about in the final three matches. Scott Machperson sneaked ahead of Colin Edgar through 3 holes and retained his lead into the back nine. Belgian duo Shasa Decker and Jean De Wouters engaged in a very tight match, tracking close to all square throughout the front nine in a game of cat and mouse. The pair halved the ninth in 3 when De Wouters made a wonderful sand save only for Decker to roll a putt in from 25 feet in order to stay just 1 down.

The final game of the match proved engrossing too, with Lewis Black just managing to edge in front of Rob Foley early on, before the Swiss sensation snapped back to turn with a two hole advantage.

Score Forecast as of 3.30 PM      STIRLING I           6              6              STIRLING II

Morris extended his lead over Sundborg at the 13th, doubling the advantage to 2 holes with an impressive birdie. However, the steely Sundborg found another gear and made it to the 15th tee all-square thanks in part to a birdie at 14.

Game three continued to slip away from Alasdair McDougall, as the relentless Fitzsimons kept piling on the pressure, taking a five hole lead through the 12th and never looking back. The tall Northern Irishman obviously had the bit between his teeth and would go on to record the first of the afternoon points with a 5 & 4 victory.

Meanwhile Mark Napier was in imperious form as he turned the screw against a somewhat weary James Kempster, amassing a six hole cushion through the twelfth and wasting little time in securing a valuable point for the reigning champions via a 6&5 victory.

Game one continued to be a hugely significant bellweather for the outcome of the overall match and as they stepped on to the 17th tee Jordan Sundborg and Daniel Morris were all square, each having birdied the 16th.

As those two made their way down the long 17th, there were signs of the 1st team boys just turning the screw a bit over their clubmates. Oliver Bailey got back on level terms with Angus Bendell at the 14th and Lawrie, De Wouters and Foley kept their noses in front, keeping the pressure on at every turn.

Score Forecast as of 4.00 PM      STIRLING I           8              4              STIRLING II

A birdie 4 on the 17th gave Sundborg a one hole advantage on the 18th and when both players found the centre of the fairway it looked a tall order for Morris to save a half. However his prospects improved a little when he fired a soaring approach shot to 12 feet below the hole. Sundborg’s response didn’t quite grip in time and slid off the back edge of the green, from where he would get down in two for a par. However, it proved to be enough when Daniel’s putt fell just short and thus another point was gained for Stirling I.

Oliver Bailey found that wee bit extra just at the right time too, as he began to stretch his legs a bit and took the lead thanks to a birdie at the 16th.

Michael Lawrie came through the short par four with a two hole lead over Matthew Bell safely intact and he would go on to seal a very useful point by 3&1 – taking his team to the verge of victory.

There was contrasting news a hole behind as MacPherson completed a memorable victory over Colin Edgar by a score of 4&3, keeping the white side of the board ticking over.

Bailey and Bendall teed off at the 18th with the former still enjoying a one hole lead, perhaps unaware that his match could decide the fate of the Charles McNeill Cup.

His tee shot found the middle of the fairway and, playing his second shot first, he then found the back edge of the green. Angus Bendall did well to get to the side of the green from the steep slope to the right of the fairway, but this left only a most improbable birdie opportunity. When his chip came up a little short Oliver knew that two putts were enough and he duly rolled his approach putt to gimme range and sealed his point – and with it the Final as a whole!

Score forecast as of 4.30 PM       STIRLING I           9              3              STIRLING II

With only the (significant amount of) pride still to play for, the final two games continued towards their conclusions.

In game seven Jean De Wouters made a very tidy birdie 2 at the 15th to give him an unassailable three-hole advantage. Behind them the final match between Foley and Black came through the 14th with the former enjoying a three-hole lead and this was maintained after Black narrowly missed a long birdie putt for the hole at the 15th. He befell a similar fate at the 16th and Foley holed out for par to finally see off his spirited opponent by 3&2.

Not wishing to go quietly, Shasa Decker found a moment of inspiration to win the 16th hole and extend the match for another hole. However, his resistance was soon broken for the last time thanks to a birdie four at the seventeenth for De Wouters and a 3&1 victory.

This prompted celebratory and good natured scenes at the back of the seventeenth green, with the full Stirling contingent rightly proud of their joint achievements over another compelling week of golf.

FINAL SCORE      STIRLING I           9              3              STIRLING II

After a fine Championship, played in excellent spirits, the Stirling Club Captain Mark Napier commented

‘It’s tremendous for the club to once again deliver success at the Scottish Student Championships. It’s been a terrific team performance all round, and especially in the matchplay. It’s really been a great week for Stirling overall. Having both teams in the final makes us all proud of our strength in depth and adds to Stirling University’s reputation as a great sporting institution’.

From a Scottish Student Golf perspective it has once again been an absolute pleasure for the students, staff and supporters to be in Lossiemouth and at the wonderfully hospitable Moray GC this past week. The standard of golf has matched the excellent surroundings provided by Kevin Thompson and his team on the course, by John Murray and his team of professionals with supplies for the round, and by Stevie Grant and all of the clubhouse team in between rounds. All and sundry look forward to the prospect of a return next year, and hopefully for many years to come.

Full results are available on GolfBox.