Laird Shepherd produced one of the greatest ever comebacks to win The 126th Amateur Championship in emotional scenes at Nairn.
In an all-England 36-hole Final with Monty Scowsill over the renowned Moray links, the 23-year-old remarkably fought back from eight down after 17 holes and from four down with four to play to triumph at the 38th hole in an extraordinary match.
Having battled with knee and back injuries in recent times and worked in a Tesco call centre during Covid-19 lockdown, Shepherd was in tears at the dramatic conclusion given the enormity of what the former R&A Foundation Scholar has achieved.
In his fourth appearance at The Amateur, the ex-University of Stirling student was warmly hugged by his girlfriend, the Scottish amateur player Chloe Goadby, and friend and caddie, Andrew Davidson.
Shepherd, a member of Rye Golf Club in East Sussex, can now look forward to competing in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s next month, the 2022 US Open and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Shepherd, who joins a roll of honour that includes José María Olazábal, Sergio Garcia, Matteo Manassero and Romain Langasque, will also be invited to play in an event on the European Tour.
“It’s an amazing, amazing feeling. To come back from eight down through 17 holes, I mean I was honestly more concerned about not making an embarrassing record-breaking defeat. Monty played so good in the morning, so composed, and I didn’t really have my game. To turn it around was unbelievable," Shepherd said.
“I feel for Monty, he is a mate of mine. He did play so well, holed a lot of great putts. He didn’t give it away, he really didn’t."
The Final, which was live broadcast on The R&A’s YouTube and Facebook accounts as well as on randa.org, saw two former R&A Foundation Scholars go head-to-head after coming through the 144-player field.
Scowsill, 25, an ex-University of Exeter student, made a hat-trick of birdies from the 5th – including a wonderful chip-in from the back of the par-3 6th – to seize the initiative on a pleasant morning with little breeze.
“It’s an amazing, amazing feeling. To come back from eight down through 17 holes, I mean I was honestly more concerned about not making an embarrassing record-breaking defeat." – Laird Shepherd
Shepherd, who now lives in St Andrews after graduating, passed up an opportunity at the 8th and found himself four down after nine holes. Scowsill quickly made another birdie to extend his lead as he played the opening 10 holes in four-under-par. Shepherd saw another chance slide by from seven feet on the short 11th, before three-putting the 14th to fall six holes behind.
Woodbridge’s Scowsill, a former cricketer, then drove the 303-yard 15th to set up a winning birdie. Shepherd then also three-putted the 17th to fall eight behind but he claimed his first hole of the match after Scowsill went out of bounds with his tee shot on the 18th.
Shepherd was bidding for another victory for the University of Stirling after Louise Duncan’s triumph in last week’s Women’s Amateur Championship at Kilmarnock (Barassie).
He needed a fast afternoon recovery at Nairn – which last hosted The Amateur in 1994 – and secured his first birdie of the contest at the 23rd to return to six down.
Further birdies followed at the 26th and 27th to cut the deficit to four, but a bogey at the 29th saw Scowsill briefly go five up with only seven to play.
At the 30th, Shepherd’s par was good enough to claw one back but he soon found himself needing to win the last four holes to keep the match alive. Incredibly, he did so in dramatic scenes, helped by superb birdies at the 33rd and 35th. At the par-5 36th, Scowsill hit a tree with his drive and then lipped out for glory.
At the 38th, it was all over as Scowsill three-putted for bogey and Shepherd’s stunning comeback was complete.
“It’s really tough to take. I was in command all the way, really. I finished poorly and Laird finished very well, to be fair to him. That’s golf," Scowsill said.
"I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I just didn’t hit the shots when I needed to on the back nine. It happens. It was my morning, it was his afternoon.
“On the 36th hole I was trying to hit it down the left side and I just hit it a bit full and it hit the tree. It’s still been a good week and congratulations to Laird.”