Hertfordshire’s Max Hopkins was hailed as a “star in the making” on Friday after he etched his name into the Telegraph Vitality Junior Golf Championship history books in the sun-drenched Algarve.
The 14-year-old became the youngest boys’ winner since the event was first held in 1985, while 15-year-old Annabell Fuller also triumphed over her elders with an emphatic 13-stroke victory in the girls’ competition.
Incredibly, both trophy winners have three more years in the junior ranks. But while returning finalist Fuller, of Roehampton Golf Club, carded a closing 70, the best girls’ round of the week, it was Hopkins’ debut performance that stood out for its fearless maturity.
Standing just 5ft 5in, he coped brilliantly with the demands of the North Course at Quinta do Lago and rated his performance as “my greatest win”.
“It will take time for this to sink in,” Hopkins said. “I had a few nerves on the short putts but I wasn't nervous coming up the last as I knew the other scores.”
Hopkins’ victory was underpinned by avoiding a three-putt throughout the 54-hole event. On some devilishly quick greens and intimidating pin positions in the final round, this was undoubtedly the standout achievement of the week of the 21 junior finalists.
“Two-putting takes a lot of shots off and that’s the thing that has done it for me as I haven't played great this week,” he said.
Hopkins, an England Under-16 squad member, also prevailed without his parents here to offer their support. Both are teachers at Hockerill College in Bishop’s Stortford and so their son had to rely on twice-daily messages from back home.
“They have been really supportive,” he said. “They said to play my own game and have fun.”
Hopkins and co-overnight leader Alfie Fox swapped one-shot leads but were level after 10 holes of the final round.
Their nearest challenger, James Wilson, fell away on the 6th after finding trouble in the trees, but the true drama unfolded on the 11th, where Fox lost his ball and then ran up a nine after falling prey to the fast-paced greens.
On the next hole, Hopkins pushed his tee shot and found a large pine cone nestled behind his ball. The Bishop’s Stortford member took several moments to lift the obstacle, before a clear outtake of breath and a wondrous par save. “That was definitely a nervy moment,” Hopkins said. “If I had moved the ball, it would have changed things.”
As it was, he remained utterly composed despite a rare blemish on the last after going out of bounds from the tee.
As Hopkins shook hands with his playing partners, with applause ringing out on the atmospheric 18th, his scorer was left in no doubt of his abilities. “I've never seen a round like it from a 14-year-old,” said Diana Mucklow, a Quinta do Lago member. “He was ice cool and a star in the making like [former Telegraph Vitality Junior Golf Championship winner] Justin Rose.”
Thirty minutes later, Fuller came home for a standout victory, relegating the formidable talent of Lily May Humphreys into second place for a second year running.
Fuller’s clear advantage opened up as early as the 2nd when Humphreys, the British Girls’ Amateur champion, had a double bogey at the short par three.
“This is close to the biggest win of my career,” said Fuller, the English Girls' under-16 champion.
With a seven-shot lead at the turn, Fuller courageously decided “to go for all my shots and see how low I could go”. She mustered five birdies in all, including a fine greenside chip in at the penultimate hole.
“This is such an honour,” she added. “There are so many who have won this and gone on to win big championships. One day I hope I can follow in their footsteps.”
— TelegraphJuniorGolf (@TelegraphJunior) November 10, 2017
Telegraph Vitality Junior Championships (54 holes)
Annabell Fuller (71, 74, 70) -1
Lily May Humphreys (74, 75, 79) +12
Martha Lewis (79, 80, 74) +17
Charlotte Heath (70. 81, 82) +17
Annabel Wilson (75, 79, 80) +18
Hannah Screen (74, 82, 78) +18
Jessica Hall (79, 83, 75) +21
Louise Duncan (77, 82, 80) +23
Ana Dawson (78, 82, 84) +28
Max Hopkins (71, 72, 71) -2
Ben Jones (69, 77, 71) +1
Alfie Fox (70, 73, 76) +3
William Hopkins (70, 77, 73) +4
Enrique Dimayuga (76, 74, 72) +6
Harry Goddard (78, 75, 71) +8
James Wilson (70, 74, 80) +8
Thomas Plumb (76, 73, 76) +9
Adam Tridgell (77, 76, 80) +17
Charles Petrie (77, 75, 81) +17
Goncarlo Teodoro (83, 78, 74) +19
Greg Hurley (81, 83, 78) +26
Championship continues to grow in strength
The Telegraph Vitality Junior Golf Championship is growing “from strength to strength” after it was magnificently hosted for a fifth year in a row by Quinta do Lago.
That was the verdict of two sponsors of the long-running event, which is now into its fourth decade and recognised as junior golf's “major”.
William Wright, Vitality sponsorship manager, said: “What’s really important to Vitality is that this championship had over 21,000 young players of all abilities enter from across the UK.
“This week has showcased the best of those players and it has been incredible to see the skill level on show.
“Annabell and Max are both very worthy winners and as young champions they have demonstrated the strength in depth of British and Irish junior golf.”
Wright's comments were echoed by Daniel Southam, sports marketing and activations at adidas Golf. He said: “This tournament is growing from strength to strength and it’s great to witness the next generation of players performing at such high standards.
“The competitors have lofty ambitions of making the professional tours and this tournament provides the perfect step in helping them achieve their dreams. Everybody involved should be proud of what they are doing here to help elevate the sport of golf.”