It was entirely appropriate that while lifting the magnificent Michael Lunt Trophy in triumph Jake Burnage should have the Walker Cup very much on his mind.
Brilliant Burnage Lifts The Michael Lunt Trophy
Jake Burnage, 22, from deepest North Devon, had earmarked victory in the South of England Open Amateur Championship at Walton Heath as the first of two objectives designed to convince Great Britain & Ireland selectors to pick him for the match against the United States in Los Angeles this Autumn.
First job done, Burnage will now focus on a second successful performance in the English Amateur Championship at The Berkshire next week.
“My aim is to knock down the door with a sledgehammer this fortnight,” the Saunton GC member said in reference to possible selection.
The aforementioned Lunt, one of the finest British amateurs of his generation, became a Walker Cup stalwart with his four appearances between 1959 and 1965.
Walton Heath Golf Club, which he captained in 2005, chose to celebrate his career by commissioning a trophy in his name.
Burnage put his own name on the piece of silverware with four sub-par rounds – two each on the Old and New courses – to secure his first 72-hole victory. A total of 11 under par 277 represented fine scoring given the strength of the wind, the severity of the rain squalls and the clawing nature of the purple heather.
Moreover, in keeping with the tradition of the championship, the two courses had been stretched to their maximum lengths with tees located further back than even those facing hardened professionals in the annual US Open qualifying event.
Burnage had shared the half-way lead with Jack Yule, another 22-year-old though from the opposite side of the country in Norfolk. Paired together and last out for both the third and fourth rounds, they duelled all day while the chasing pack kept their distance.
Once he took the lead in the opening stages of the third round, Burnage was never headed. A five stroke advantage by the 48th hole had been reduced to just one at lunch. And when Burnage three putted the fourth hole of the final round the principle contenders were level.
Only briefly, however. The fifth saw Yule, in turn, three putt on slick greens that were running at 11.0 on the stimpmeter, even faster down wind. Burnage had regained a lead he was never again to lose.
Related: Walton Heath Old Course review
That the winning margin ended up being just a single stroke was down to an unexpected dramatic conclusion.
Burnage lead by three on the final tee only to drive his ball into thick heather on top of a bunker. All he could do was accept his medicine and hack back onto the fairway.
With Yule holing for a birdie three Burnage needed to two putt from 25ft for victory. Anxious parents, Clive and Louise, who had left their North Devon home at 5am that morning, could scarcely watch as their son slid his first putt a tantalising four feet past.
The tension of the moment seemed to escape Burnage.
“I really went for the par putt because I knew that would reduce my handicap to plus 5,” he said. “The return putt did not bother me at all.”
Yule saw the situation somewhat differently.
“Jake deserved victory more,” Yule suggested. “He deserved it more if only for his final putt. That was a very good putt to win a championship. My birdie had put the pressure on him.”
Related: Walton Heath New Course review
In truth, Burnage had looked the more accomplished player throughout the final round. His iron play was particularly impressive, nothing more so than the purest and classiest of 3-irons drilled into the wind to less than a yard from the flag at the 222 yard par three 11th.
Burnage’s development has followed the steepest of curves. He did not take up golf until the age of 16, having in his own words ‘done nothing but kick a ball’ since he could walk. As well as he progressed under the tutelage of first Albert McKenzie then his wife Tiffany, 2017 has brought the breakthrough.
Related: Golf Monthly UK&I Top 100 Courses
Victory in the Hampshire Hog by five strokes with stunning rounds of 67 and 66 might have been the highlight but there were also a third place in the Lytham Trophy and a runner up spot in the Brabazon Trophy among eight top 10 finishes.
That sledgehammer has been pounding on the selectorial door. Yet, Burnage, third and fourth in this event in the past two years, has not yet played for the full England international team and that might prove a stumbling block with those who chose the Walker Cup side.
Third place at Walton Health with a six under par total of 282 went to 23-year-old Italian Philip Geerts, truly a man of the world. Geerts was born in Kenya to a Belgian father and Italian mother and spent most of his childhood in South Africa where he now spends five months of the year. He has played for Italy since he was 15.
Like so many, winner and runner up included, he spoke in the highest possible terms of the quality of Walton Heath. “The course is amazing,” he said.
“I love it,” Burnage commented.
“It is embarrassingly good,” Yule said.
Max Martin, from the dark chocolate paradise of Bourneville, near Birmingham, who finished fourth, celebrated his 20th birthday last Sunday. “A round at Walton Heath was the best possible present,” he said.
And you did not even need to survive the half way cut to leave the glorious Surrey track in buoyant mood. Robbert Van Helden failed to make the top 40 qualifiers despite achieving that rarest of golfing scores, an albatross two at the par 5 16th.
A drive and 2-iron did the trick. “We could not find the ball at first,” Van Helden told Members. “It seemed to disappear from sight. Eventually one of my playing partners looked in the hole and there it was.”
The best clubhouse memories recalled a previous two at that hole. Steve Jones, the 1996 US Open champion, holed his second shot at the 16th in the Senior Open in 2011 when the hole was a par four.