Tom Hawkings – runner-up in the 2019 President’s Putter
Many of us were following Tom and Claudio’s magnificent exploits last week at the President’s Putter. Claudio (last year’s winner) sadly lost in the quarter-final on the 22nd but Tom made it all the way to the final trying to ensure that at least Winchester retained the title! I have asked Tom to write a few words on the week and there are some pictures available through the link below.
Hopefully aspiring for all of us going in to 2019!
The Secretary has asked me to jot down a few lines about my recent and hugely enjoyable run in the President’s Putter. It started on Thursday 3rd Jan 2019 at a dry but cold Rye, with a strong enough northerly breeze to make some of the 440 yd holes into it at times unreachable. I was faced with a small section of the draw that doesn’t get a bye through the first round so would be required to play two rounds a day for as long as I kept winning. I arrived with no real ambition, never having performed very well in the competition, and having made lots of plans for the weekend that didn’t involve being anywhere near Rye.
I had been making some effort to improve my game and had played in a number of Senior golf tournaments in the year, but had been on duty at home over Xmas so hadn’t played much recent golf. Thankfully my opponent in the first round was even more under-golfed, having spent the previous 5 months back-packing in South America without touching a club and I had an easy win. I managed to reduce my workload for the week with a second big win having played some of my best golf.
On Friday I won ugly twice, not playing great golf but good enough, and the putter working well. My afternoon opponent was Rob Randall, who I play with regularly and normally give 6 shots to! His 11 pars in the first 13 holes were hard to live with, as was the banter fuelled by his lunch of two pints of Guinness and two large whisky macs. Thankfully the golfing muse returned to me for our 16th and 17th (the 7th and 8th) and a couple of accurate iron shots put an end to his resistance.
Saturday morning was frustratingly slow and again I wasn’t at my best but a birdie at the first extra hole ended the contest. In the afternoon I was pitted against Charlie Rotheroe, 3 time winner. He started by playing beautiful faultless golf and cruised to a 3 up advantage after 6. My putter and wedge kept me in the contest and then my golfing engine, which had been spluttering a bit, started to run more smoothly. Pars on the long holes and a couple of birdies on the more manageable holes turned the match around. 2 up with 2 to go, a par at the 240 yd par 3 finished the job which was quite a relief to me and the small crowd, as the temperature was dropping and the light fading.
Another call home to my long-suffering wife to explain that I would be staying yet another day and that more weekend plans might need to be cancelled was negotiated and so to Sunday.
Richard Marett, my semi-final opponent, was a two time winner and he wouldn’t have been expecting me to pop up when he had first scanned the draw. Again he started playing immaculate golf which I didn’t. 2 up after 3 was a poor return for this discrepancy, again the putter limiting the damage. A missed 5 footer at the 4th seemed to derail him and he lost his putting touch, so critical around Rye. My ship had steadied and I was now playing par golf and the holes kept flowing my way. In the end I won 4 and 3 and Richard headed to the putting green to rediscover his touch.
And so to the Final. Mark Benka is also a previous winner, and is a quality golfer with many trophies in his cabinet. The now common theme of my opponent playing glorious golf and mine being a bit scrappy emerged again. That was compounded by the golfing gods taking a dim view of my presence in the Final. The front nine was a perfect storm of bad shots, unlucky lies and putts not dropping. 4 down at the turn and I am now starting to be a bit embarrassed that a crowd of about 50 has to watch this non-contest. Thankfully my game then comes alive again. 4 at the long 10th gets one back. Birdie at the next one more. When my long birdie putt at the 11th only just defies the gravitational pull of the bottom of the hole Mark is looking a bit more anxious. A five iron to 12 ft at the 13th gives me a birdie chance I am too timid to take (he still has a 5 footer to hole). A career bunker shot played on one knee with a restricted backswing at the 14th got me inside Mark’s rather more straightforward one. When he holes and I lip out the momentum does a volte-face and swings massively back to him. The 15th, 460 yds into the wind, was negotiated with good drives and 3 woods from both of us and again my birdie putt horseshoes around the hole. Mark is parring every hole so I am making no headway. A 3 wood down the stick at 16 runs just off the back to 15ft from the pin. Mark calmly rolls his 70 footer from off the front to a few feet and when I miss the game is up and he is a worthy champion for the second time.
Psychology is a funny thing. My zero expectation of this happening, despite being one of the lowest handicaps in the draw, meant I played with no pressure and didn’t feel nervous for one minute. I just loved every minute of it.
I would really like to thank all those who supported me and sent me so many good luck wishes, and, in the end, commiserations. I am very aware that this is only an achievement in a very small world, but am immensely proud of my efforts, and particularly pleased that, at nearly 56 years old, I am still finding ways to improve!