By Steve Acteson
Canterbury Golf Club’s Dan Cooke won the Kent Amateur Championship, fighting back from two down after 10 holes in Sunday’s final to beat Luke Spooner of Sundridge Park 3&1 at North Foreland Golf Club.
Cooke fought back tears of joy when Spooner conceded on the 17th green to crown the big-hitting Welshman, 27, as Canterbury’s first Kent Amateur champion since Paul Hoad won it three years running from 1976.
As well as lifting the Invicta Challenge Cup, Cooke will now represent Kent in the “Champion of Champions” national finals at Woodhall Spa on September 10-11 and he will be able to defend his county title at Open Championship venue Royal St George’s, Sandwich, next year.
Cooke controlled his emotions and his occasionally erratic putting superbly on the final day, which began with a fine 1 up semi-final win against Chislehurst's four-time champion Liam Burns.
When news of that win filtered back to the Canterbury clubhouse after the morning competition, the place erupted.
Canterbury captain Scott Lindsay said: “When I told the members that Dan had just won his semi-final, a great cheer and applause went up around the clubhouse.
“To then win the final is a fantastic personal achievement for Dan and a great honour for CGC.
“The members are very proud of what Dan has achieved today. Full credit to Dan, [it was] an absolutely brilliant performance.”
Spooner beat Matthew Gibson of Sundridge Park 6&4 in his semi-final and, after Cooke handed him the opening hole of the final with a double bogey, Spooner went two up for the second time with a brilliant 18-foot birdie putt across the green at the par 4 eighth hole.
Abergavenny-born Cooke, however, came up with the goods on the major turning point of the day at the 13th.
Having threatened his putter with an early grave after three-putting 14 times in Friday’s 36 holes of qualifying stroke play, he holed a 20-foot birdie putt at the par 3 11th to get back to one behind.
Cooke then produced his master stroke on the 427 yards downhill 13th, smashing his driver to just 75 yards short of the green.
Clearly rattled, Spooner tugged his tee shot left into a fairway trap, hit the face of the bunker with his attempted escape and saw it bounce on 20 yards into thick rough. He got on in three but Cooke clipped a lob wedge to 12 feet and parred the hole to pull level.
He said: “I’d been using a 3 iron off the tee at the 13th but after I got back to one down I thought I would try and put a bit more pressure on him with the driver and it paid dividends.”
Spooner was in trouble again off the tee on 14 when he pulled an iron tee shot deep into rough on the left, duffed it 20 yards and then had to hack out well short of the green in three while Cooke was on in two and closed out the hole with great lag putt, to go ahead for the first time.
Cooke hit another monster drive up the par 5 16th and slotted a four feet birdie putt to go two up.
And with Cooke just short of the 17th green in two, Spooners’ drive was in rough behind a bush on the right and he had to hack out again.
His third shot then toppled off the right side of the green and down the bank and after just failing to hole his chip back up he conceded.
Cooke added: “Luke was solid through 11 or 12 holes but, on 13, he hit that bad tee shot and that was the start of the rot for him.
“He was compounding errors and that made life easier for me, I was just trying to hit fairways and the middle of the greens and play par golf.
“Luke won 6&4 this morning so he can play golf but he just seemed to run out of steam at the end.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, I know I’m tired but I’m really happy and it’s just rewarding to play consistently for six rounds of golf.
“I go to represent Kent now in the national finals at the end of the summer which will be a good opportunity and I’m finally playing some decent golf.”
He also paid tribute to his caddie, American golf colleague and close friend Chris Mills - who works at Stonelees Golf Centre in Ramsgate.
He said: “Chris was a big help in controlling my emotions, he keeps me grounded.
"We try not to get up or down too much and just stay level.”
After qualifying ninth from a starting field of 55 of Kent’s elite amateurs on his debut in the competition on Friday, despite his poor putting, Cooke beat Jack Skipton of Royal St George’s 3&1 in the last 16 ties on Saturday morning and crushed King’s Hill’s highly-regarded Jacob Kelso by 5&4 to reach the last four.
Cooke will now turn his sights on trying to qualify for the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in July when he heads to regional qualifying at Rochester and Cobham GC next Monday with three other Canterbury hopefuls - rookie Clutch Pro Tour professional Josh Bristow, senior teaching professional Richard Wallis and Dean Griffiths.
A maximum of 12 places will be at stake for the 135 entrants to take into final qualifying a week later when only three places will be up for grabs in the starting field at St Andrews from each of four venues, including Prince’s in Sandwich.
Cooke moved to Canterbury three years ago to be with his partner, Chloe.