YORKSHIRE are celebrating winning the English Women’s County Championship after beating Gloucestershire 5-4 on the final day at Felixstowe Ferry in which the outcome was not decided until the final putt on the final green.
Woodsome Hall’s Nicola Slater showed ice-cool nerves to roll her ball from behind the green to within six inches of the cup to cement a one-hole win that clinched the crown for captain Fran Dickson’s team – and then was bowled over by her joyous team-mates.
Rotherham’s Olivia Winning cradled the trophy and remarked: “This is the only one I’ve ever wanted. I’d give up all my other wins for this.”
This is quite a declaration from an England international who has also twice won the Scottish Open title and has also helped England to European gold.
Just as in 2016, Yorkshire and Gloucestershire met in the title decider, but this time the White Rose came out on top to claim their 13th victory in the event.
Going into Friday’s play, Yorkshire had ceded Gloucestershire a slight advantage following their half with Buckinghamshire on Thursday that followed three decisive wins over Hampshire, Nottinghamshire and Suffolk.
It meant the champions could halve the contest between the pair and retain the title and they increased their chances when they took the morning foursomes 2-1 – helped by a hole in one on the 12th from Caley McGinty.
Things looked grim for Yorkshire when the afternoon singles got underway and Gloucestershire forged ahead over the opening holes.
But Yorkshire and Sandburn Hall coach coach Steve Robinson – England Golf’s coach of the year for 2016 – was undismayed, remarking: “You’ve got to be able to take a punch.”
He had told his team to be sure they did not go home without having given their all and his words soon bore fruit.
Huddersfield and Lightcliffe’s Hannah Holden, one of the players who had endured last year’s final-day disappointment, was determined not to re-live it and she brought home the first point. She was five under par when she won 6&5, having birdied holes four, five, seven, 10 and 12.
Winning faced a two-hole deficit after six, but a monstrously-long putt dropped on the eighth to provide her with momentum.
She garnered a crop of birdies before hitting a wedge shot to within two feet on the 15th to win 4&3.
Gloucestershire were champions for a reason and Alex Giles struck back with her 2&1 win over Huddersfield’s Charlotte Heath, the Yorkshire teenager’s first singles setback after the England Under-16 international had recorded three wins out of three.
It put the two teams back on level terms, but almost immediately Huddersfield’s Megan Lockett won 2&1 to put Yorkshire ahead again and give herself an astonishing nine points from 10 encounters, having played in both sessions on all five days.
Sixteen-year-old McGinty defeated Lindrick 14-year-old Mia Eales-Smith two up meaning the teams had four points apiece and everything hinged on the final game between Slater, the North Region ladies’ champion, and Gloucestershire’s Alex Saunders.
They were all square with three holes to play, but crucially Slater won the par-316th after Saunders had a putt lip out.
They shared the honours at the 17th with birdies and then, with adrenalin pumping, both hit their approach shots through the back of the 18th.
Saunders was furthest away, but produced a delightful chip to within six inches of the hole. Slater responded in kind, her downhill putt from the fringe also perfectly judged to roll equally close.
“I was just thinking, ‘don’t hit it long’,” she remarked.
Yorkshire captain Dickson, of Alwoodley, paid tribute to her players, saying: “I just think they are amazing young people with great talent.”
Her Gloucestershire counterpart Andra Knight had similar words for her players. “It was a fabulous match, played in a great spirit. I am so proud of them all, they were brilliant,” she said.
In the day’s other matches the hosts, Suffolk, defeated Nottinghamshire 6-3 to take third place in the championship, on their first appearance at County Finals in 22 years.
Captain Vanessa Bell commented: “I am thrilled to bits. After we lost on Monday, but won on Tuesday, I was after third place and we got it. I am just so proud of the team for fighting and keeping going. It’s been fabulous.”
Hampshire beat Buckinghamshire 5.5-3.5 for their second win of the week. It put them in fourth place, ahead of Nottinghamshire and Buckinghamshire.