By Alistair Tait, Golfweek
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – The 119th British Amateur Championship is in danger of turning into the Southport and Ainsdale Club Championship. The Merseyside club has two members through to the quarterfinals at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Paul Howard and Sean Towndrow booked their places in the last eight with impressive victories. Howard defeated local boy Cormac Sharvin while Towndrow overcame strong English opponent Toby Tree.
Howard not only had Sharvin to put up with, but a strong local following cheering on the member of Ardglass Golf Club in nearby County Down.
“There was a lot of support out there, but most of it wasn’t for me,” Howard said. “There was only polite applause when I won a hole.”
The 23-year-old went 2 up after four holes, but bogeys at the sixth and seventh saw his lead wiped out. He pulled ahead again at the par-4 eighth hole when Sharvin bogeyed. Then Howard stepped up the pressure.
The plus-5 handicapper birdied the 10th, 11th and 14th holes to take an unassailable four-hole lead.
“It’s the best I’ve played all week,” Howard said. “Today was the most confident I’ve been on the golf course. The shot that got me going was a 7-iron to two feet at the 10th to go two up.”
Howard hit another 7-iron into the 11th and holed a 25-foot birdie putt. At the par-3 14th hole, he hit a high 4-iron to 15 feet and holed that putt, too. A half at the next sealed a 4-and-3 victory.
Howard recently graduated from Edge Hill University in Liverpool, where he earned a degree in business management. He is playing his first full season of amateur golf.
So far, it’s paying off.
Towndrow went ahead early against Tree and was feeling in control of the match.
“I was two up after four holes and that gave me a lot of confidence,” he said.
However, he stepped on his ball on the 10th hole to incur a one-shot penalty and hand the hole to Tree.
“That knocked my confidence a little,” he admitted.
Towndrow lost the 11th when Tree birdied, but he hit a 60-yard lob wedge to 8 feet at the 15th and holed the birdie putt. Pars on the next two holes gave him a 2-and-1 victory.
Former European Tour pro Jim Payne teaches Towndrow. The two-time European Tour winner became Southport and Ainsdale’s head professional 11 years ago. Towndrow has been in regular contact with Payne throughout the week, and it’s paid off.
“I’ve been speaking to him every day,” Towndrow said. “He just keeps me on the straight and narrow, tells me not to get ahead of myself, that sort of thing. He’s been really good for my golf since I was a boy and a good mentor to me.”
England’s Daniel Brown is still on track to double up as leading qualifier and Amateur champion. Brown overcame two-time Walker Cup and East Tennessee State University player Rhys Pugh, 3 and 2, to earn a spot in the last eight.
“It was a scrappy match,” Brown said. “My ball striking hasn’t been as good over the last two days as it was in the qualifying so that’s something I need to sort out. My putting inside 10 feet has been a lot better though. I holed a lot of putts inside 10 feet to keep the pressure on him.”
Only Philip Parkin (1983), Warren Bladon (1996) and Matteo Manassero (2009) have won the Amateur Championship as medalists since 36-hole qualifying was introduced in 1983. Brown looks like he could become the fourth.
Iceland’s Haraldur Magnus, South African Zander Lombard, and Scottish players Bradley Neil, Jamie Savage and Connor Syme also booked spots in the quarterfinals. However, Howard and Towndrow stole the fourth-round show.
Southport and Ainsdale has hosted two Ryder Cups (1933 and '37), but never an Amateur Championship. At this rate, the R&A will have to consider taking the world’s best amateurs to the links just north of Liverpool.