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Tough choices for Hampshire golf skipper Dawson ahead of ‘must-win’ championship clash with south coast neighbors Sussex at Hayling Island

Rowlands Castle’s Darren Wright is in the Hampshire squad for this weekend’s ‘must-win’ fixture with Sussex at Hayling. Picture by Andrew Griffin.

Despite being Dorset by a country mile last time out at Liphook – just a week after losing their opening encounter of the season at Kent – ​​Dawson knows even two wins out of their remaining games against Sussex and Surrey will not guarantee Hampshire a place in October’s South East League final.

By then, it will be four years since Hampshire last won the South Division.

Dawson’s predecessor Colin Roope, the former Blackmoor member who now plays at Rowlands, won the division in his first season in charge in 2019, but lost the final to Essex, minus his top USA college players.

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Rowlands Castle’s Tom Robson is in the Hampshire squad for this weekend’s ‘must-win’ fixture with Sussex at Hayling. Picture by Andrew Griffin.

The return – and form – of the county’s current crop of American-based college golfers is also posing some tough choices for Roope’s successor.

When he took over the side in early 2020, only for COVID to wipe out his first season’s fixtures, Dawson stressed he wanted to be able to give the younger generation a chance.

Both he and Roope have had a talented pool of Mid-Ams (over 35s) to call upon since the likes of Scott Gregory and Harry Ellis, who won the Amateur Championship back-to-back five years ago this month, turned pro.

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Lee-on-the-Solent GC’s George Saunders is in the Hampshire squad for this weekend’s ‘must-win’ fixture with Sussex at Hayling. Picture by Andrew Griffin.

Dawson said: ‘Last year, I gave Jersey’s Jo Hacker and Joe Buenfeld their league debuts after their performance at the county championship.

‘And after last month’s incredible final when Joe lost to James Freeman, there is no way I could leave either of them out of the squad to face Sussex, even though Joe was not available for the Dorset game.

‘They were 15-under for 21 holes in one of the best endings, if not the best, in living history.’

Charlie Forster, last year’s Hampshire Junior champion, finished fifth in the Berkshire Trophy at the weekend – one of the biggest 72-hole strokeplay championships in the country’s amateur calendar.

‘He has had a fantastic first few months at Southeast Louisiana University,’ reported Dawson.

‘Charlie and Joe are both improving rapidly thanks to the excellent facilities and standard of golf they get to play every week in America.’

Dawson now has a tough call to make over his line-up and, crucially, his foursomes pairings for the Sussex clash.

He added: ‘Getting points on the board in the morning is vital to avoid to much stress in the singles after lunch.’

Dawson is trying to get everyone to play Hayling this week before Saturday’s official practice round.

‘It’s a great position to be in having so many players in a good place,’ he said. ‘It is a must-win game, there is no other way of describing it.

‘We could only draw with Surrey at Rowlands Castle last summer in a similar situation, and Sussex held us to a draw at North Hants, the year before I became captain.

‘But I am confident we can deal with the pressure needing a win brings, and get the two points to keep the pressure on Surrey who we play last.’

Hampshire squad v Sussex at Hayling (Sun, June 26): Martin Young (Brokenhurst Manor); Toby Burden (Hayling); Colin Roope, Tom Robson, Darren Wright (all Rowlands Castle); James Freeman, Ryan Moody (Stoneham); Joe Buenfeld (Bramshaw); Charlie Forster (North Hants), George Saunders (Lee-on-the-Solent).

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