Monday, May 14, 2012
Rising star Amber Ratcliffe overcame the brave challenge of surprise package Jane Sheppard to win her second successive Norfolk Ladies Amateur Championship at Sheringham yesterday.
The final of the showpiece event of the county season pitted a plus one handicapper in the shape of Ratcliffe against a player who had never got beyond the strokeplay section before – and had exceeded all expectations by getting through three tough matchplay rounds.
With a handicap of seven, Sheppard was always going to be up against it in the competition’s climax and so it proved in the end, with the 16-year-old defending champion making it back-to-back titles with an emphatic 6&4 success.
But the Weston Park player made a decent game of it early on before her young opponent made her class tell around the turn, winning four holes out of five – the 10th with a magnificent eagle three – to further cement her position at the top of the ladies amateur game in Norfolk.
“It feels great to win this again,” said Ratcliffe, who will now be taking some time off from golf to concentrate on exams.
“I’m often playing in different parts of the country now but it’s always nice to play in the Norfolk Championship.
“I didn’t hit the ball as well as I would have liked to today but I putted reasonably well and that got me through. Full credit to Jane, she played really well and certainly made it tough for me.”
Having been given a tough battle by the experienced Karen Young in the semi-finals Ratcliffe was quickly into her stride in the final, winning the par four first with an impressive birdie three.
She could easily have won the next two as well, with birdie putts just missing the target, but Sheppard deserved the breaks for the manner in which she battled her way to a couple of gutsy par fives.
The 298-yard fourth was halved as well and although Ratcliffe moved two up at the fifth when a bogey five was good enough her opponent was quick to emphasise that she would be no pushover, despite the yawning gap between handicaps.
Sheppard was way off target with her shot to the green at the 193-yard sixth, but then proceeded to produce two shorts out of the top drawer – a fine chip to the heart of the green and an excellent putt from over 20 feet for an unlikely par three. The quality up and down must have surprised her opponent, who missed her six-foot putt for a half.
That meant the underdog was only one down with a third of the round completed – an excellent achievement which she built on by halving the par five seventh.
At that point an early finish looked unlikely but then Ratcliffe found another gear, using her power off the tee and a fine touch on the greens to good effect to very quickly take a vice-like grip on proceedings.
The Royal Cromer youngster was given a helping hand on the short eighth when her opponent found sand, but her win on the 325 yard ninth was most certainly all her own work. With the strong south westerly wind behind her she launched a booming drive of almost 280 yards to finish just short of the green and completed a comfortable par four while Sheppard could manage no better than a five.
If the opening shot on that hole was good then the way Ratcliffe played the next, a 404 yard par five, was even better. This time she comfortably found the green in two, again with some assistance from the elements, and then holed out from over 25 feet for an eagle three to move four up with just eight to play.
Well though Sheppard was performing it was clear there was only going to be one winner now, and although the short 11th was halved Ratcliffe won the next with a par four to stand on the brink of victory.
The least said about the 13th the better – save that both women found gorse and ended up with triple bogey sevens. It was a hole neither deserved to win and it was fitting that the destination of the title was decided by more excellent golf from Ratcliffe at the 14th as she got up and down from just off the green to secure a well deserved triumph.
For Sheppard, who only took up golf six years ago, there was the consolation of some excellent wins earlier in the competition, including a 2&1 success over multiple winner Tracey Williamson, and the knowledge that she had given a good account of herself in the final.
“I never thought I’d get this far,” said the runner-up, who reached the final with a 2 up win over Charlotte Presland. “I would have been happy enough just to get through to Saturday afternoon, so to get to the final exceeded all my expectations. I’ve really enjoyed myself here and now it’s just a case of trying to build on this.”
Last 16: Amber Ratcliffe (Royal Cromer) bt Mary Arnold (Sheringham) 7&6, Sharon Black (Dunston Hall) bt Juliet Fenton (King’s Lynn) 1 up, Karen Young (Eaton) bt Becky Eagling (Weston Park) 7&6, Shelly Pleasance (Dunston Hall) bt Debbie Jary (Caldecott Hall) 5&4, Tracey Williamson (Royal Cromer) bt Jane Winsworth (Barnham Broom) 6&5, Jane Sheppard (Weston Park) bt Rebecca Shubrook (Sprowston Manor) 4&3, Charlotte Presland (Sprowston Manor) bt Sam Martin (Royal Norwich) 3&1, Tiffany Mills (Ryston Park) bt Nickie Clarke (Royal Norwich) 7&5.
Quarter-finals: Ratcliffe bt Black 5&4, Young bt Pleasance 1up, Sheppard bt Williamson 2&1, Presland bt Mills 4&2.
Semi-finals: Ratcliffe bt Young 2up, Sheppard bt Presland 2up.
Final: Ratcliffe bt Sheppard 6&4.