Golf: American gains for James

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The Independent Online
A COLLECTIVE sigh enveloped the 17th green as Gordon Sherry's putt shaved the hole. But almost immediately Scottish hands were brought together to applaud an English victory in the Amateur Championship. It was a nerve-racking finale for two young golfers and in the end Lee James from Dorset prevailed 2 and 1 over the towering figure from Kilmarnock.

The disappointment of the crowd, 99.9 per cent of them favouring a schooner of Sherry (the 20-year-old is 6ft 9in in his spikes and 171 2 stone) was understandable, but at the same time they appreciated the performance of James who deservedly won after gaining an early lead which he never lost. On fast, sure greens - he described them as the best in Britain - James, 21, from the Broadstone club in Dorset, displayed a magnificent putting touch which only began to waver as he homed in on the glittering prize.

As amateur champion, James, who failed to qualify for the tournament in three previous attempts, will play in the Open Championship at Turnberry next month and the US Masters at Augusta next April. His ambition, after winning here, is to play in the Walker Cup match against the United States at Royal Porthcawl next summer after which he will turn professional.

James went into lunch one hole up, stubbornly defending a lead he had established at the fifth where Sherry's drive was so far right it landed in the Moray Firth. The storm that temporarily halted play on Friday gave way to sunshine allowing the snow-capped peaks of Ben Wyvis, obscured for most of the week, to make a dramatic reappearance. It was a classic scenario for links golf.

Despite the wind the scoring was respectable. In strokeplay terms it is irrelevant, but for providing a measure of form, James was round in 71, Sherry in 72. On three occasions James went two up. When Sherry holed from 10 feet for a birdie three at the 17th it was back to one and it looked as if they would go into lunch all square after James hit his approach at the 18th into a bunker. However, he came out to nine feet and made the putt and the hole was halved in birdie fours.

In the afternoon the finalists went out for the ninth and last time and James went three up when he played a great downhill bunker shot at the sixth and nearly holed out with little green to work on. Sherry won the seventh, or 25th, with a 15-foot birdie putt and expected to win the ninth until James rammed in a 30-footer.

James - three members of his club flew up to watch him whereas coachloads came in from Kilmarnock - lost the 10th after a wayward approach shot hit the factor of Cawdor Castle on the back and bounced into the treacherous gorse. However, he won the 12th, courtesy of Sherry, and the 13th, courtesy of a brilliant three, to go three up.

Sherry holed from 25 feet for a two at the 14th and very nearly sank another monster at the next. Now the pressure began to tell. They both bogied the 16th and 17th and it was James, not Sherry, who was home and dry.