SHEFFIELD’S Joe Dean kept the English Men’s Amateur title in Yorkshire hands with an overwhelming 9&7 win in the final over Sundridge Park’s Alfie Plant at Alwoodley GC, playing what he described as “by far the best golf I’ve played in my career”.
By winning the championship Dean is not only the immediate successor to his Yorkshire county team-mate Nick Marsh, of Huddersfield GC, but also places his name on the trophy alongside such as Nick Faldo, Mark James, Paul Casey and his fellow Sheffield golfer Danny Willett.
Hard to believe, therefore, that just three days earlier, despite winning his first round in the match play phase after qualifying through the stroke play portion, his assessment of his play was “appalling”.
The 21-year-old had placed second last month, behind another Yorkshire team-mate Dan Brown (Bedale), in the Dutch Junior Open but insists it was a “scrappy” runner-up spot.
It took a subtle piece of advice from his coach Graham Walker (The Oaks) to produce a dramatic change in his play, and it had everything to do with psychology and nothing to do with technique.
Dean recalled: “I spoke to Graham and he said instead of hitting balls on the range and getting more disheartened with myself I should go back to the golf club and play a few holes, just to get a bit more confidence back and get used to hitting tee shots [the latter being a particular source of concern].
“Me and my caddie David Culf went back to Hillsborough Glf Club and, with some other mates, took out buggies and went and played about 10 holes and had a good laugh. I obviously still focused on every shot as I would in a tournament, but the tee shots got better, and I just tried to recreate that situation when I came back to Alwoodley and it paid off.”
He took the lead against former England A squad-mate Plant at the second in the 36-hole final and would never relinquish the advantage. He played the 29 holes needed to secure the title in an approximate four under par.
“These last two rounds [in the final] I felt less pressure than all the other rounds I’ve played this week,” he said. “I can’t understand why really. I guess it was just a feeling that I’d made it to the final so I told myself to just play my golf and see if it was good enough.
“I just felt really comfortable out there in the final even on the last few holes where all I needed to do was halve holes. I felt comfortable and confident over the tee shots, and every shot really.”
After his birdie at the second hole edged him in front, he quickly went two up. Plant’s excellent tee shot to eight feet at the 143-yard par-3 seventh halved Dean’s lead, but the Lindrick and Hillsborough member restored it at the next and a par at the ninth put him three ahead at the turn.
By the last hole of the morning’s play he was five in front and, although he lost it, lunched with a healthy four-hole lead.
He ate lunch in his car with girlfriend Emily Lyle, herself a one-handicap golfer, to keep away from the clubhouse hubbub.
The strategy worked and he came out to birdie the first three holes under sullen skies which eventually dropped a deluge on the course. By that point, Dean and Plant had reached the 10th with the Yorkshireman seven ahead. The Kent man had to play three off the tee after losing his tee shot, made a six and went eight down to Dean’s par.
The players had to wait for the green at the 179-yard par-3 11th to be cleared of standing water before Dean brought the curtain down on proceedings with a punched seven-iron which passed the hole, spun back and lipped out when it looked sure to drop.
Kent player Plant, needing to ace the hole to prolong the match, spun his tee shot back off the green and - when he approached and saw Dean’s ball no more than six inches from the cup - conceded the hole and championship.
Dean was quick to praise both the Yorkshire Union of Golf Clubs and England Golf for their support on the road to his being crowned champion of England.
And he expressed particular gratitude to his mother, Pauline, whose dual roles as a mobile hairdresser and assistant kitchen chef at a school have helped fund Dean on what is an expensive amateur circuit, both in terms of finances and time.
“My mum is fantastic and I can’t thank her enough,” he said. “There’s been low times and there have been high times, but she has been with me all the way. She used to be my chauffeur before I could drive, and she’s still my organiser and my PA.”