Hampshire’s new captain Steve Williams will take one last look at the players pushing to break into the county team when the top amateurs tackle the club professionals in the annual friendly at Liphook tomorrow.
With Stoneham's Elliot Groves joining Walker Cup player Neil Raymond in the pro ranks at the end of last year, Williams has to pick eight players for the first Daily Telegraph South East League game of 2014, against Dorset, next weekend.
Young stars like former English Amateur Champion Harry Ellis and 2012 Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Champion Jordan Ainley and Rowlands Castle's Billy McKenzie are playing college golf in the States, Corhampton's Scott Gregory, who was prevented from claiming the Hampshire Hog two weeks ago by the torrential rain that fell at North Hants when he was leading with six holes to play, will be playing in the South East Links Championship at Royal St George’s when Williams takes his team to Weymouth next Sunday.
But, having started the season in fine form, Williams – who succeeded Stoneham club mate Richard Elmes at the end of 2013 – will be keen to partner him with Blackmoor’s Ben Lobacz, with the second fixture against Kent at the end of May, also due to be played at Blackmoor.
Lobacz only made his Telegraph debut in the final game of last season against Surrey – the reward for beating Brokenhurst Manor’s former English Mid-Amateur Champion Martin Young and Groves on his way to the county final at Blackmoor, last June.
Although the 23-year-old latecomer to the county scene – who has given up his job in the pro shop at Petersfield and become a postman, ironically to give himself more time to practice – was beaten heavily by Stoneham’s Ryan Henley in that final, Lobacz could play next weekend.
Henley has largely been absent from the county elite squad get togethers at Hockley and last week’s trip to the Channel Islands for the annual friendly, having become a father for the first time in January.
The three-time county champion will still be available for selection this summer, but is understandably spending less time on the golf course, juggling his full-time job and fatherhood with the time needed to maintain his plus-two handicap.
Williams will be glad to see the likes of Ellis, Ainley and McKenzie back on UK shores in June to give him more options for the challenges that lie ahead in trying to reach the English County Finals for a second year running.
Robson, Henley and Blackmor’s Mark Burgess are the only survivors from the seven-man team that made their English County Championship bid, at Minchinhampton, in September.
But Williams can take comfort that two players he will be looking at for the first time in a light blue Hampshire shirt are both bang in form – Hayling’s Darren Walkley and Ben Wall who finished sixth and 10th respectively in the Selborne Salver.
With Kent travelling to Blackmoor in three weeks’ time, their claims could be backed up by a strong showing against the Hampshire PGA.
Hampshire IoW & CI team: Tom Robson, Mark Sawford (Rowlands); Ryan Henley (Stoneham); Ben Lobacz, Mark Burgess (Blackmoor); Scott Gregory, Sam Day (Corhampton); Ben Wall, Darren Walkley (Hayling); Ryan Harmer (Brokenhurst Manor).