eicestershire’s Foxes endured another near miss on the final day of County Week against Lincolnshire at Hollinwell, losing 5-4 in an exciting match.
Playing for the fifth day running in blistering heat, our Fighting Foxes knew that they might have a battle on their hands against a Lincolnshire side still in with a chance of taking the overall title, especially as they were able to call on India Clyburn for the final two days of competition, who played in the recent Curtis Cup for GB & Ireland.
Caz Parkes-Walley and Jo Mayfield led Leicestershire off in the morning foursomes and played India and her partner Billie-Jo Smith. A steady start saw Leicestershire 1dn after three but a birdie blitz from Lincolnshire saw them extend their lead to 4up by the 6th. The Foxes responded with an excellent birdie of their own at the 7th after a great Caz drive and approach from Jo, reducing the margin to 3dn. Things remained tight until the par 3 13th when Lincolnshire stretched the lead to 4dn and despite some excellent golf, Leicestershire succumbed to a 5&3 loss.
Gemma Parkes-Walley and Suzanne Pretty were the second pair out and lost the first after finding a tough lie in the rough. As a measure of the standard of golf being played, the second was halved in birdies. Our Foxes also birdied 5 and 8 to be 1dn at the turn. A run of holes from 12 through 14 proved crucial, Lincolnshire playing some excellent golf and a couple of uncharacteristic errors from Leicestershire seeing Lincolnshire surging 4up. Gemma and Suzanne battled hard to reduce the deficit but steady golf from Lincs saw them home 4&3.
Moira Page and Karen Haynes were our final pairing and took the early lead with an eagle at the 2nd. Again the standard of golf was exceptional from both sides in a very even contest over the early holes. Leicestershire extended their lead to 2up at 8 when a rare error meant Lincolnshire couldn’t match our solid par. Winning the 10th to stretch to a 3up lead, things seemed to be going very well for Leicestershire. However, a strong fight back on 11, 12 and 13 brought Lincs back all square. Knowing that overturning a 3-0 lead in foursomes would prove very difficult, the pressure was on and our Foxes rose to the challenge, bouncing back to win 14 and regain the lead. A birdie from Lincs took the match back to all square but trouble in the bunker for them at 16 allowed Moira and Karen to edge ahead 1up and they played the 17th in style, making birdie to close out the match 2&1.
Trailing 2-1 from the morning foursomes, Leicestershire sent out fresh legs at the start of the singles order in the shape of talented young guns Ellie York, runner-up in the County Championships, and Olivia Barrs. Ellie started strongly, eagling the 4th to return the match to all square before wins at 6 and 7 took her 2up, before losing the 8th to go 1up. Lincs birdies at 9 and 10 sent Ellie 1dn but in what had been a rollercoaster match, she showed great determination to win 13 and 14 (birdie) to regain a 1up lead that she held to 17 which she birdied to finalise an excellent performance with a 2&1 win.
Olivia had been handed a particularly tough match against India Clyburn, but made a steady start to be just 1dn after 3. A run of excellent play saw Lincolnshire stretch to a 5up lead by the turn. However, Olivia showed great character and attitude to draw closer to her illustrious opponent at 4dn through 11. Unfortunately, 12 and 13 were both lost to seal Lincolnshire’s first point of the afternoon. A very creditable performance from Olivia in just her second county week experience.
The third match our saw England Senior Strokeplay Champion Helen Lowe for Leicestershire pitched against long hitting youngster Billie Jo Smith. Some fine golf from both players at the start suggested that there would be little between them and it remained tight through the first 7 holes, with Billie Jo taking a slender 2up advantage. Extending this to 3up at the turn a series of shared holes followed until both found bunkers off the tee at the par 3 13th. Fine shots from both gave them makeable putts, but Helen’s good looking effort just missed whilst Lincs holed for a 4up lead. Showing a true Champion’s spirit, Helen refused to give in and mounted an impressive fightback, bring it back to 2up on the 16th, but a birdie from Lincs on 17 closed out the match.
This left Leicestershire needing wins in all three final matches featuring Caz Parkes-Walley, Kirsten Thorpe and Karen Haynes. All three won the 8th, making Caz and Kirsten all square, whilst Kirsten was 1dn. It seemed that another tense final 9 holes was in store for the band of Leicestershire supporters and so it proved!
County Champion Caz found herself 1dn on the 13th tee but a very well-played hole took her match back all square. She then exchanged holes with her opponent on 14 and 15 before playing the 16th brilliantly to go 1up. Halving 17 in birdie set up a nail-biting finale but Caz again epitomised the Foxes’ fighting spirit to close out her match for a 1up win.
Kirsten again showed maturity beyond her years on her final 9 holes. Winning 12 to take a 1up lead, she was pulled back all square following a Lincs birdie on 13 and went behind at 14 after finding the rough off the tee. Two great shots on 16 and a well-judged downhill putt enabled her to bounce straight back on the 16th and yet another birdie on 17 saw her start the par 5 18th 1up. In good shape after two with her opponent in a little trouble, Kirsten just pulled the approach, sending it long left. A brilliant chip through a swale saw the ball finish 5’ from the flag and a solidly struck putt secured a 2up win. This was Kirsten’s 4th point in her debut County Week and
So the match would be decided by the sixth pairing. Karen was 1dn through 12 for the Foxes, but a fine tee shot on 13 saw her level at all square and the match stayed level through 15 holes. Karen’s good looking approach to the difficult 16th green took a fiery bounce and found trouble just off the back of the green. A hampered swing made the downhill chip extremely hard and the hole was lost. Great drives from both down 17 set up birdie attempts, with Karen inside her opponent. Tilly holed for Lincolnshire so Karen had to hole a 4 footer to take the match to 18 and retain the possibility of a halved match overall. As the gathered spectators held their breath, she found the middle of the cup and yet another Leicestershire match this week headed for a grand stand finish down the last. Enormous drives from both in the fast running conditions left wedges to the green. Both found the green safely at around 15 feet, with Karen to take her eagle putt first. It looked good for most of the way, but just drifted agonisingly past the edge on its way past. With two putts to seal the match, Lincs made no mistake and secured their narrow win to end the match 5-4.
A fifth place finish overall did not really do justice to the excellent golf that Leicestershire played all week. Three very narrow 5-4 losses and a win against the eventual winners Staffordshire demonstrates the extent of the determination and team spirit that our Fighting Foxes showed all week. The emergence of some fine young talent from the junior ranks to complement our established players bodes well for the future as we build towards hosting the event again in 2020.