Two national junior champions and England Boys internationals are in the marquee group of The Journal Champion of Champions on Sunday, with their coach saying they have an outstanding chance of lifting the trophy.
Matty Lamb, the 15-year-old from Hexham who beat an Under-18 international field to win this season’s Sir Henry Cooper Junior Masters, and Alnmouth’s Jake Storey, last year’s England Under-16 Open winner, tee off last at Close House alongside the defending champion, Tyneside’s Ricky Lee.
It’s a field crammed with potential winners including two more former Journal champions in Craig Penny (Newbiggin) and Morpeth’s Sandy Twynholm.
Twynholm starts alongside Bellingham’s former US college player Will Robson, who lost to Twynholm in a play-off at De Vere Slaley Hall in 2007 when the event returned to the fixture list after a gap of eight years.
There has not been a play-off in the five tournaments since then, so the event may be due a sudden death showdown this time.
Among the leading contenders is the 55-year-old Tony McLure, the former Whickham greenkeeper and the 2013 Longhirst Hall club champion who has captured the Durham County championship a record six times.
This season McLure has won the Northern Counties and Northumberland Senior Amateur Championships, finished second in the Welsh Seniors and third in the Scottish.
There are a host of former and current county champions in the draw, plus 12 form horses in the shape of the wild card choices made by Durham County skipper Bryan Ross and his Northumberland counterpart Andrew Minnikin.
The county captains go out together in the penultimate group alongside Close House wild card Tim Price.
Teenagers Lamb and Storey will need their ‘A’ game on the Lee Westwood Filly Course if either are to see off an elite field of this stature in the 18-hole strokeplay tournament. Their coach, Hexham head professional Andy Paisley, is a man who insists they can.
Paisley said: “Something they have in common is that they have masses of potential and the big reason for that, more than anything else, is their attitude.
“Both Jake and Matty have an incredible work ethic and a fierce determination to succeed and even at such a young age both of them have a great chance of winning the Champions. They have a professional outlook on the sport and they are very knowledgeable about their own games.”
Underlining their different key strengths, Paisley added: “Jake is powerful, very strong and athletic with an impressive swing. His all-round game is developing well and he works extremely hard in the gym as well as on his technique.
“Matty is a different sort of player and it’s a scary thought that he is still eligible for the Henry Cooper for another three years after winning it this year at the age of 15.
“He does not hit the ball as far as Jake, although he hits it straight, but he is very much a flair player and very inventive indeed with his shot-making.
“He can play knockdowns and flop shots and he excels at shaping his shots.”
Lamb has mopped up the headlines in a season which has brought a player less than halfway through his teens a string of men’s county titles and there is no question he is the most exciting teenager to hit the North East golf scene for well over a decade.
Storey, meanwhile, has been a model of consistency, and has made the cuts in two top men’s events – the Scottish Strokeplay Championship and the English Amateur. He represented his country in the England Boys home internationals and is in the top ten of the Footjoy Boys Order of Merit.
Storey’s outings in national tournaments have brought him the runner-up spot in the Northern Boys, third place in the South of England Boys and top 15 places in the Carris Trophy, the McEvoy, the Henry Cooper and the Irish Boys.
No wonder the rest of the field will be looking over their shoulders at young guns Lamb and Storey stalking the fairways behind them and shooting for glory. But I have a sneaking feeling this might, just might, be the year of the golden oldie. Watch out for McLure!