Dodd’s the star man as Suffolk win inter-county championship

Suffolk’s PGA team, representing the East Region, became the first name to be engraved on the inaugural Dave Thomas Memorial Trophy for the SkyCaddie England and Wales PGA inter county championship.

Lawrence Dodd, Peter Latimer and Kevin Earp beat off the formidable challenge of Lancashire, Warwickshire, Surrey and South Wales over two testing rounds on the PGA National course at The Belfry.

Dodd was Suffolk’s star man with a round of five under par 67 on the second day when he produced a faultless back nine under tremendous pressure, but an all-round team performance was required to come through with a three-shot win over Lancashire. Warwickshire were third, South Wales fourth and Surrey fifth.

The best two scores from each team on each round counted. The first day was played in wind and persistent rain with the tees as far back as they could possibly be. Latimer, the former Scottish Home international now based at Felixstowe Ferry, had the joint best first round of 75. This was shared by Irishman Darren Murphy from Warwickshire. Dodd had 77 and Earp 79 that included an eight.

Top names found it difficult in conditions Earp described as “brutal”. David Callaway of Surrey, who played in this year’s PGA Cup match against the United States at Slaley Hall, struggled to 81. Former European Tour star Sion Bebb of South Wales had 80.

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An indication of the quality of Latimer’s round was clear from the comments of Murphy who said: “Seventy-five feels like a 65! That was really tough. At times it was borderline unplayable with the rain driving in your face, but it is what it is. It’s October. It was fun.

“You know full well that no-one is going to shoot 62 out there. Usually you walk off with a 75 and your head’s down but that was under par on this occasion.”

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After the first round Suffolk were tied with Warwickshire and Lancashire at eight over par which shows just how tough the conditions proved to be. South Wales were 12 over and Surrey 14 over. Players were using a three-wood for par threes and there was one par four at which no player was able to reach the green in regulation.

On the second day conditions were far better. It was still saturated under foot but the rain had stopped and the PGA brought some of the tees forward. There was, of course, still very little run on the fairways.

Dodd, who was putting brilliantly, hardly put a foot wrong but Latimer had two doubles on the front nine and Earp was two over at the turn.

Earp played steadily and birdied the 17th to be one over. At the last he drove nicely down the middle of the fairway. Then his second shot ended in a wet grassy bank to the left of the green. His first chip rolled back into trouble and he had to settle for an unexpected double.

He was the first of the Suffolk players back in the club house and had an anxious wait having heard that Dodd was playing well but Latimer was several over par.

Dodd’s nerve held until the end and there was nothing the opposition could do.

Lancashire’s David Shacklady, one of the leading professional in the North, played against the Americans in the 2011 PGA Cup in California. He could not keep pace with Dodd and signed for 72.

In fact, apart from Dodd, only Bebb broke par on the second day with 69 but the damage had been done for South Wales on day one.

Suffolk were two under par as a team after Earp and Dodd finished. It all depended on Lancashire’s Jeff Mathews in the final group. He needed a round of 70 to force a play-off. He came in with 73.

The presentation lunch was attended by Paul Thomas, son of Dave, who recently passed away. Former PGA captain Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss designed the course that has a links feel to it despite being in the Midlands.

Current PGA captain Neil Selwyn-Smith introduced the presentation ceremony and Kevin Earp, celebrating his 36th birthday in style, replied on behalf of the winning Suffolk team. Sandy Jones, chief executive of the PGA, was among the many officials at the lunch.

Each region had a qualifier. Suffolk won through at Nazeing where Dodd was nine under after two rounds and Latimer was seven under in his second round after being level par after round one when Middlesex held a narrow lead.

Many strong teams went out in the qualifiers. Cheshire and North Wales fielded former Suffolk star Jon Bevan, now at Rhyl, and new Welsh PGA champion Lee Rooke. They had an off day at Bolton. The Midland region was fought out between Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Northants, Lincolnshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire at Stapleford Park.

Surrey overcame Kent, Sussex, BB&O and Hampshire in the south at Windlesham while the West qualifier was settled at Exeter.

This success reminded me of Suffolk cricketers’ success in the inaugural NCA County cup when victory was achieved over Shropshire at the Griff and Coton Ground at Nuneaton in 1975. It’s nice to have Suffolk’s name first on a national trophy.

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