By Alistair Tate
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – This would be a good year for a Welshman to triumph in one of the most prestigious amateur events in British golf.
The Royal Lytham & St. Annes flag flew at half-staff when competitors teed off Friday in the 44th edition of the Lytham Trophy. The flag was lowered out of respect for 19-year-old Ben Enoch, who died April 30 in a car accident on his way to a practice round for the Lytham Trophy.
“We normally don’t lower the flag unless a member has died, but we thought it was appropriate in this case,” said Robert Webb, chairman of Royal Lytham’s championship committee.
No Welsh player has ever won the Lytham Trophy. The eight Welshmen in the field this week are hoping to win the trophy to dedicate the win to Enoch. None more so than veteran Nigel Edwards.
Edwards, a four-time Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup player, not only plays elite level amateur golf, but he works for the Golf Union of Wales as director of player development and coaching.
“I watched Ben grow up and come through our Welsh squads, and he was just a great lad,” Edwards said. “I got to know him pretty well over the last seven or so years. I spent two weeks with him in Australia earlier this year where we were in each other’s company 24 hours a day, virtually. It’s just very sad for the family and Welsh golf. It’s a great loss.”
Rumors abounded at Lytham that the club was thinking of canceling the tournament as a mark of respect to Enoch. Such rumors were unfounded.
“We never considered canceling the tournament, because people had come from too far to do that,” Webb said.
Edwards agreed. “We certainly didn’t think of pulling out, because Ben would have wanted us to go out and play. I spoke to Ben’s dad yesterday, and the family didn’t want us to pull out. They wanted us to just go out and win.
“We’ll be trying our best to do that.”
Edwards returned a 2-over 72 and is six shots off the lead held by Ireland’s Shane Lowry. Edwards virtually went round Royal Lytham on autopilot.
“It’s hard when you’re over a shot and it doesn’t seem to mean as much as it did before. It was hard to focus at times because Ben’s death just puts everything in perspective.”
Enoch was a member of the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup squad. He missed the recent two-day training session at Formby Golf Club to sit a school exam. Otherwise he probably would have traveled to Lytham with someone else rather than making the trip on his own.
According to a report by West Mercia police, Enoch’s green Peugeot 306 ran off the A40 eastbound during a sweeping left-hand curve, crashed through a fence and struck a trailer being used as a storage unit.
The talented amateur last year helped Great Britain & Ireland win the Jacques Leglise Trophy, an annual match featuring the nine best juniors in the British Isles against a team from Continental Europe. He played for Wales in last year’s Home Internationals and European Men’s Team Championship. He also won the Clwyd Amateur in his homeland.
Enoch was due to join older brother Rhys at East Tennessee State University this September after being recruited by coach Fred Warren.
“Ben was one of the most promising golfers in Wales, a bright and vibrant personality in our teams,” said Richard Dixon, chief executive of the Golf Union of Wales.
“He had a chance of getting into the Walker Cup team this season, such was his talent, and would surely have represented Great Britain and Ireland at some stage before enjoying a career in professional golf.
“For this accident to happen just a few days after his 19th birthday is heartbreaking. He had such a bright future ahead of him.”
The R&A conducted a minute’s silence in Enoch’s honor at the Working for Golf Conference being staged in St. Andrews.
“I was shocked and saddened to hear of Ben's tragic accident,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “He was a bright young talent who played with great success in our Jacques Leglise Great Britain and Ireland team. He earned a place in this year's Walker Cup squad and was a great prospect for the future. Our thoughts are with his family. He will be sadly missed.”
Edwards compiled his 72 by holing two birdie putts on the last two holes, including a 35-footer on the 18th. He punched the air after the ball fell into the hole. Moments later, he had tears in his eyes as he spoke of the loss of one of Britain’s most outstanding young talents.
Ben Enoch won’t be far from Edwards’ thoughts the next two days.