ROWLANDS Castle’s Spanish Amateur Champion Billy McKenzie will face Ernie Els’ nephew as he tries to emulate Harry Ellis and Scott Gregory by becoming the third Hampshire player in a row to win the British Amateur.
The 22-year-old booked his place in the last 64 at Royal Aberdeen on Wednesday, after finishing in a share of 25th place after the R&A’s 36-hole qualifier played over Murcar Links and the Royal course which will host this week’s seven rounds of matchplay.
South African Jovan Rebula arrived in the UK fresh from playing in the NCAA Division One Championship at Karsten Creek, at the end of May, where he played for Auburn.
Els has been helping his nephew with his golf career but the three-time Major winner’s own experiences of the British Amateur in the 1980s saw him knocked out in the first round twice in the first round, in 1987 and 1989.
He also qualified in 1988 at Royal Portchcawl when Brokenhurst Manor’s Nigel Graves reached the semi-finals – and ended up caddying for fellow South African Ben Fouchee in the final after the Big Easy was knocked out in round four.
McKenzie has already improved on his displays in the Brabazon Trophy at Frilford Heath, and the St Andrews Links Trophy in the last three weeks, having missed the cut in both.
A big performance this week from the left-hander will not only extend Hampshire’s remarkable record after Gregory’s win at Royal Porthcawl, followed by Ellis’ incredible fightback at Royal St George’s last year, but it will also push Billy’s bid for inclusion in the England team to travel to next month’s European Team Championship.
McKenzie was in a good position to make the top 64 who qualified for the knockout after a round of 72 at Royal Aberdeen on Monday, despite his clubs going missing on the flight up to Scotland, which meant he missed a day’s practice.
His one-over par total could have been even better but for two bogeys on the back nine, after two birdies in the first six holes were balanced out by dropped shots at the seventh and eighth as he finished five shots behind the first round leader.
Murcar played much tougher on the first day and keen to avoid any card-wrecking numbers McKenzie made a good start getting to the turn in level par after bouncing back from a dropped shirt at the first.
He made birdies at the fourth – the only par five on the course – and the seventh only to give one back at the par four eighth and then made five at the 11th to fall back to one-over for the day.
With another South African holding the lead in the shape of overnight leader Wilco Nienaber, who carded rounds of 66 and 67 to get to eight-under, McKenzie made sure of his place in the hat by reducing the damage by finishing with four straight pars after double bogey six at the 14th.
That put the Hampshire man ranked 67th in the world through to the second round after the 16 players tied on six-over par met in the first round to take the field down to 64.
Dylan Perry, the Aussie who lost to Ellis, from Meon Valley G&CC, in last year’s final missed out in qualifying by one shot.
Ellis came back from four down with five to play to win the famous trophy and earn a spot in the Masters.
Hampshire were the first county to have different winners back-to-back in the championship’s 133-year history.
Ellis also became the youngest player to win both the English and British Amateur Championships, beating Sir Michael Bonallack’s record by some six years.
Gregory, from Corhampton, was the first Hampshire player to reach the final since Liphook’s Sam Hutsby lost to 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, at Formby, in 2009.
This year’s final will be played over 36 holes on Saturday, with the semi and quarter-finals on Friday.