Three days of superb competition in perfect golfing weather ended in high drama at Mannings Heath on Thursday as Conwy’s Amy Boulden beat Singapore-based Charlotte Thomas in a sudden death play-off to win the 2013 English Women’s Open Amateur Stroke Play championship.
Both players began their final two rounds as joint leaders at three under par and kept a large gallery enthralled as they traded pars and birdies, with the occasional bogey, in a sublime display of shot-making.
Boulden struck an early blow by holing her wedge for an eagle two at the second, but surrendered her lead with a double bogey at the fifth after pulling her tee shot out of bounds.
A missed short putt by Boulden on the 18th saw Thomas lunch one shot ahead at four under par and with next closest challenger Hayley Davis five shots adrift the afternoon looked set to be a two-way race for the title.
Boulden opened the final round with a birdie on the first to get on terms immediately and the scores were still level after eleven holes.
But the championship seemed to have swung decisively in Thomas’s favour when Boulden lost her tee shot on the 12th and needed a miraculous up and down from the rough with her second ball to escape with a double bogey.
After both players birdied the long uphill 13th, however it was Thomas’s turn to find trouble on the short 14th, where her tee shot kicked into an unplayable lie and forced her to go back to the tee and card a five.
Apparently unfazed by that setback Thomas immediately regained the lead with a birdie on the 15th, but by this time the race had become a three-way tussle as, almost unnoticed, Hayley Davis playing two groups ahead, was putting together a brilliant back nine and holed her bunker shot on the 16th for a birdie to level with Boulden on three under.
Davis missed a great chance to share the lead on the par five 17th and then a double-bogey on the 18th ended her brave challenge.
Boulden also missed a great chance to tie for the lead on the 17th, so Thomas still held her one-shot advantage as both players hit superb drives down the last.
When Boulden just missed a tricky 12 foot putt for the title Boulden seized her reprieve brilliantly by stroking in her own putt to force the play-off.
Both players found the middle of the fairway as they headed down the first for the third time in a day and both hit beautiful wedge shots ten feet from the pin, but Thomas’s putt slipped inches by while Boulden’s found the cup to end an epic encounter played throughout in a great sporting spirit.
“I knew it would take a birdie to win,” said 20 year-old Boulden, who already holds this year’s Welsh stroke play title. “I have been playing well for the last few weeks and knew I was capable of winning. But Charlotte played great golf all day and she deserved to win as much as I did.”
A member of the victorious Great Britain and Ireland team at the 2012 Curtis Cup, Boulden came to the event straight from the Ricoh Women’s British Open and hopes to turn professional later this year. Her latest success also earned her the Under-23 and Under-21 trophies while the Under-18 title went to Bethan Popel of Long Ashton, Gloucesteshire.
Although the leaders produced some stunning golf, Boulden, Thomas and Davis were the only players to beat par over the four rounds and Boulden, with her second round 69, was the only one to break 70.
Any fears that Mannings members might have had that their Waterfall course could be put to the sword by the cream of ladies’ golf were quickly dispelled on the first day when over a third of the 90 starters failed to break 80 and after the second day, when the cut for the top 36 was 156, twelve over the par-72 card.
Many players were flummoxed by Heath’s fast, undulating greens immaculately hand cut by course manager Ian Henshaw and his team and described as “fantastic” by winner Boulden.
At the closing presentation ceremony England Golf president Pam Benka thanked the club for hosting the event on their “super course” and for all the hard work put in by staff and member volunteers to make it run so smoothly.
Heath’s general manager Steve Slinger expressed himself “delighted” with the success of the event. “The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I believe that hosting this prestigious tournament has really raised Mannings Heath’s profile and I hope it will lead to us staging more events of this kind in future.”