Golf: Foster's coolness the key

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AS Mark Foster played another remarkable recovery chip yesterday in the final of the English Amateur Golf Championship here someone said he was a real Cool Hand Luke. It was an entirely appropriate description.

The slow, assured walk up the fairway, the hands constantly fiddling with the belt on his trousers, the calm stare ahead all supported it. Mostly, however, it was the cool hands. When he played himself into trouble he played himself out of it just as quickly, always to within three feet of the pin.

It was a display of admirable composure which enabled the 18-year-old from Worksop to win the final against the utterly unsung Alan Johnson by eight and seven.

'I used to be erratic when I was younger,' he said later, making his listeners marvel still more at his maturity. 'But I'm very experienced and for an 18- year-old I've been through a hell of a lot golf-wise. All my friends think I'm 25 because I've been around that long and I've always played with them.'

This assumed maturity would have put him one year older than his opponent yesterday. Johnson works on a driving range, hardly manages to get a round in and came to the championship hoping to reach the second round. His progress through a tournament in which all eight seeds failed to reach the quarter-finals astonished everyone, not least himself.

'I've learned a lot,' he said. 'I've proved I can compete and now I just want to play more. If anybody had told me at the start I'd be in the final I'd have laughed. But Mark was too hot.'

Not that it started that way. Foster managed a birdie four at the first, but Johnson was still in his golf-is-an-easy-game mode. A spellbinding drive, a thrilling approach, a nonchalant putt and we were left wondering who was the genuine prospect. He was off to the second before the magic could wear off.

There, Foster showed his mettle. He escaped with a half after a long putt, and at the third drew level when Johnson dropped a shot after leaving his approach short. At the sixth Foster went ahead and stayed there.

The second shot made it possible but he rattled in his birdie with exuberance. Johnson proceeded to find too many bunkers without fully recovering from them. In contrast, recovery was second nature to his opponent. Foster was confident enough to go for the flag at every hole and competent enough to know that if he went astray he would get back.

At the end of the morning round he was four up. Johnson still thought he could retrieve the deficit but it was difficult to see how unless Foster went back to those erratic days of his 'youth'. He went five up at the 19th after pitching from a bunker to within 18 inches.

At the next, Cool Hand hit his drive directly in front of a bush. It was almost as if he was straying into trouble to show how simple it was to get out of it. He obliged on this occasion and ended with a birdie four which Johnson equalled to stay in touch. But it was hanging on to coat-tails time and Foster was not to be dragged back.

All week Johnson had kept his game together and still the frailties were reluctant to show. At the 29th he finally caved in. He failed to get out of the rough on the right of the green while Foster all but holed his second from 65 feet. Hole and match were conceded and Foster was seven under par for the day.

A distinguished future beckons and though he played like a professional on the day, he is not rushing to join their ranks. We will hear his name again, although the same may not be true of Johnson, who will return quietly to Wyke Green. But what a week he had.

Hugh McKibbin parred the third extra hole to win the longest Scottish Amateur Championship final since the war at Renfrew against Scottish internationalist Alan Reid. Craig Evans, 22, beat Mark Smith five and four to take the Welsh Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl.