18th-hole heroics set up greatest victory for Jack
R&A: Monday, August 16th
FORMAT: 36-hole strokeplay/ 6 rounds of matchplay
Jack Bigham was the last man standing at Royal Cinque Ports where he edged out Italy’s Riccardo Fantinelli in an epic British Boys final yesterday.
The Hertfordshire player refused to buckle despite losing his lead at the 11th and then only decisively getting it back at the 37th.
Jack was two down with three to play and needed to hole a 15-footer at 18 for a birdie to stay in it, draining it in stunning fashion and then winning the title with a par at the first extra hole as his opponent missed from five feet.
It has capped a superb boys career for the Harpenden member, who this year reached the quarter-finals of the English Amateur, the last 16 at the British Am and was sixth in the Carris (England U-18s strokeplay) last month.
“I couldn’t really believe it,” said the 17-year-old. “On 18 I was quite lucky because I had had a similar putt in the morning so I knew the line.
“It was a great feeling to see it drop, even if it did it on the last roll.”
The birdie really seemed to knock the stuffing out of Surrey-based Fantinelli, who hit a terrible drive back at the first and needed his three wood next up.
In contrast his opponent hit a good one up the left and guided a six iron to 20 feet having seen his playing partner get to the edge of the green. Fantinelli chipped close while Jack knocked his third to gimme range and then the critical par putt was missed to the right.
“To be fair to Riccardo he hit a really good second shot in but once I knew he wasn’t on the green in two I was just trying to put it anywhere on the green.”
The conclusion summed up the final which was on a knifeedge for the majority of its playing.
The eventual champion started strongly, rolling in a ten footer on the second for a birdie and the early lead, which was doubled at the sixth as Fantinelli’s drive at the short par four came close to calamity but he chipped well out of pebbles and gave himself a birdie chance from 16 feet, which drifted just wide while his opponent made no mistake from six feet.
However that lead would quickly disappear as the English player got into problems after a wayward tee shot on the ninth which meant a par was enough for the Reed’s School pupil and by the 11th we were back all square as Jack bogeyed it before the Italian talent, who came so close to winning the Carris Trophy last month, went ahead at the very next, holing from 12 feet for a birdie.
The next five holes were halved before Jack levelled matters on 18 with a beautiful birdie, draining one from 15 feet.
After lunch Fantinelli got the perfect fillip by holing out from 35 feet to regain his lead which lasted just one hole as his playing partner didn’t miss for a birdie on the third from 12 feet.
Two holes later he was back in front as a four at the par five fifth was enough to take it but two holes later it was again all square as the England Boys international fired a beautiful approach to just four feet and made no mistake with the short stick.
This time Fantinelli responded straight away with an excellent iron in at the par three eighth and the ball just had the right amount of the speed to drop in on the left hand side for a two.
But at the ninth he gave it back as his second shot found a deep patch of rough and he couldn’t get it out first time.
However he regained the lead for the fourth time in the afternoon round at the very next as Jack’s chip back on to the green didn’t have the legs and it fell back into a swale meaning par was enough for the Italian.
Things finally settled down as both boys parred the next four holes and at 15 things were starting to look very grim for Jack, where a poor tee shot cost him a chance of getting on in two and Fantinelli’s lead was finally extended to two.
A win at 16 for the leader would have closed things out but he drove into rough, hacked out into more deep stuff and a par for his opponent would be enough to halve the deficit.
Then at 17 Jack hit a beautiful pitching wedge to just four feet but there was agony as the ball horse-shoed out.
“I didn’t get fruststrated even though I was really angry about missing the putt,” added the new champion.
“I just knew I had to birdie 18.”
That he did to the delight of his mum Clare, dad Andrew, brother Harry, nan Val and granddad John and the Bigham family wouldn’t have to wait long to celebrate again. For his opponent it was a case of third time unlucky in sudden death. The day before he had beaten Lancashire’s Andrew Haswell at the 19th and American/Scot Niall Shiels Donegan in the semi-final at the 21st.
“I played really well in the strokeplay and managed to carry it through all the matchplay rounds and I really like matchplay.”
His eight GB&I Boys team-mates will certainly be hoping he carries on his form at the Jacques Legalise Trophy at the end of the month (August 27-28). The Rest of Europe side defend their title at Falsterbo in Sweden.
Earlier in the week Jack finished three shots clear of the field in the strokeplay stages. Having turned two over in round one, he tore up the back nine (-5) to close with a 69 and then went bogey free on day two in compiling a five-under-par 67.
In all his five matchplay rounds, leading to the final, he was under par, most notably during his 3&2 quarter-final victory over Scotland’s Cameron Adam, when he went bogey free and was five under for 16 holes.