Date: March 08, 2013
Author: Christian Puccini / Golf SA

English Raider

Sam Claridge (middle) with Matthew Brien (far right) and former AFL player Nick Holland – enjoing a round at The Grange Every now and then, an unfamiliar player with a plus handicap appears in a vardon tournament draw, raising a few eyebrows. Inevitably though, the player fails to deliver. Sam Claridge, from Harpenden in Hertfordshire, England, is not one of these players. At the Fleurieu Club Vardon on 17 February, Claridge shot 75, 69 (144) to finish in fourth position and at Mt Lofty on 24 February he posted rounds of 65, 68 (133) to finish tied for second. At Flagstaff Hill on Sunday 3 March, never having seen the course before, he claimed his maiden Aussie victory, in a playoff over Louis Fuller after rounds of 71, 68 (139). It’s no surprise; Claridge has performed so well over the three events, considering he is currently in the England Elite Squad, a squad of the top 14 Amateurs in the United Kingdom. Claridge has found his way to Adelaide, courtesy of Matthew Brien, son of Alberton Hotel Proprietor Peter Brien. Brien headed to the Harpenden Common Golf Club in 2002, at first to visit fellow Grange member Graham Blum for a beer, before taking on the role of Head Steward running the bar and staying 9 years! Blum was at The Common (50km North of London) courtesy of his wife, well regarded PGA Professional Christine Burton, who was Teaching Professional at Harpenden Common between 2001-2004. Burton first came across Claridge when he was a junior member and recalls young Sam regularly playing with Tom Brown son of BBC Golf Broadcaster and Ryder Cup player Ken Brown. Burton said that Clardige was certainly strong willed as a junior and independent and now had the right mindset and talent to become a successful professional . After getting to know Brien after many rounds together on the Par 70, private members, traditional English Golf Course, Claridge s father asked Brien if his son could head over to Adelaide for a summer sojourn. Matthew happily accepted the request as he was ending his decade long stint in the UK and returning to Adelaide in mid-2012 to run the Alberton. The Alberton has a long history with golfing in Adelaide, with the Alberton Social Club based out of the pub for the past 25 years and Peter Brien himself a member of the West Lakes Golf Club for the past 35 years and current sponsor of the 10th hole. Peter Brien was the typical sportsman turned golfer. He was the opening batsman at Port Adelaide District Cricket Club back in the 70 s and Ian Lethbridge was the opening bowler. Ian was the son of the then Riverside Secretary Manager Arthur Lethbridge, who suggested Peter take up golf and join Riverside, as his District cricket career was ending. A rather good recruit, some 35 years later. Arriving in Adelaide late January, Claridge decided to take up a temporary membership offer at The Grange, being close to his base at The Alberton and the member club of host Matthew Brien. Claridge is infact staying on the top floor of the Alberton where a young Justin Langer once boarded when the Australian Cricket Academy was based in Adelaide. In town for 8 weeks to get away from the horrible English weather as Claridge puts it, the 22 year old says he has been impressed with the quality of players he has played with in South Australia so far, namely Chris Brown and young Josh Hayes. Claridges background is impressive. At 14 he was selected to play County Golf for Hertfordshire against men, at 16 he was in the South of England Regional Squad for 2 years, before finishing his secondary school studies. During a gap year, he spent the full season playing the Amateur golf circuit in Britain and after a successful season was primed to head to America to the Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, however decided to put those plans on hold when selected for the 12 man England A Squad. After one year in the Developmental squad, he was selected for the England Elite Squad which he has been a part of for the past 2 years. Claridges career highlight include; winning the 2010 Selborne Salver Golf Event at Blackmoor Golf Club with rounds of 68 and 64 ahead of British Boys Golf Champion Tom Lewis. Success at the Finnish Amateur in 2011 followed and then victory in the 2011 Berkhamsted Trophy, played at the Berkhamsted Golf Club. Claridge shot a six-under-par 65 in the first round, then stayed ahead with a 73 to win the 36 hole event by four on 138. Past well known winners of the Berkhamsted Trophy include Sandy Lyle 1977, Luke Donald 1996, Graham Storm 1998, Gary Wolstenholme 1999 and Tom Lewis 2010. Going forward, Claridge plans to play a full UK Amateur season, which constitutes approximately 15 events crammed between April and September, to try and avoid inclement weather. The ultimate short term goal for Claridge is to make The Walker Cup team in September, where the 10 best male amateurs from Great Britain & Ireland take on their counterparts from the United States. The two-day biennial team competition will this year be played at The National Golf Links of America, in Southampton, New York. The prestigious event attracts thousands of spectators and is broadcast live to more than 50 countries on the Golf Channel and according to Claridge, is a once in a lifetime opportunity . His inclusion in the team will be up to the selectors, rather than purely based on order of merit. Then in October, Claridge plans to tackle European Tour Qualifying School. The 3 stage event, with an entry fee of 1,700euro, will be played in Britain and Spain and comprises 14 gruelling rounds. A top 25th placing would be Sam s ticket to the professional ranks. Sam has one last event to play in Adelaide prior to his departure on 26 March. He will contest the South Australian Amateur Championship from 18 – 24 March. With the qualifying rounds played at Flagstaff Hill, the venue of his Vardon win and Match Play at his temporary home, The Grange, it wouldn t surprise if Claridge ended his sojourn in a blaze of glory. Link to England Squad profile Link to 2010 Selborne Salver Link to 2011 Berkhamsted Trophy