New Amateur champion Laird Shepherd says fightback in final was 'fiction novel'

St Andrews-based Laird Shepherd is still trying to come to terms with his stunning success in the 126th Amateur Championship, describing his record-breaking fightback at Nairn as a “fiction novel”.

Laird Shepherd poses with the trophy after his victory in the final of the R&A Amateur Championship at Nairn. Picture: David Cannon/R&A/R&A via Getty Images.
Laird Shepherd poses with the trophy after his victory in the final of the R&A Amateur Championship at Nairn. Picture: David Cannon/R&A/R&A via Getty Images.

The 23-year-old, who has stayed on in Scotland to be with his girlfriend, Chloe Goadby, after graduating from Stirling University, recovered from being eight down after 17 holes to beat fellow Englishman Monty Scowsill at the 38th hole in an extraordinary title decider on Saturday.

“No, it hasn’t,” Shepherd, replying to be asked if the manner of his victory in the R&A event had started to sink in, told The Scotsman.

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“I keep catching myself re-living the whole thing. It comes with so many opportunities that you can’t really comprehend it and I will probably need a week or so.

“It was like a fiction novel, it was amazing. I didn’t think I had a chance really until I kept the match going on the 15th hole in the second round. To pull off the biggest comeback in the championship’s history is pretty cool.

“I’m actually looking forward to watching a rerun of the livestream of the final and maybe that will help it sink in.”

Shepherd, a member of Rye Golf Club in East Sussex, stayed in Nairn on Saturday night, but at the end of a long week, his celebration was a quiet affair.

“I was absolutely wiped out,” he admitted, having played nine rounds in six days. “The emotion and how nervous I was for the last three days took it out of me, so I didn’t do too much.

“I just went for a meal with my dad, my girlfriend and a friend of my dad’s. I had a glass of wine and went to bed, to be honest.”

Laird’s title triumph came a fortnight after Goadby, a fellow Stirling graduate, claimed the biggest win of her career by landing the Scottish Women’s Championship at Gullane.

“It’s been pretty great,” he said of the duo’s successes. “The thing with golf is that you can’t decide what week you are going to win; it just happens.

“Chloe played unbelievably at Gullane to win the Scottish Championship and for myself to win two weeks after is pretty crazy.”

On living in St Andrews he added: “I’ve managed to get my Links ticket and I’m a member at The Duke’s as well - that’s where I do most of my practice and playing.

“Ever since I came up here six years ago to start at Stiling, I’ve spent a fair few weekends in St Andrews, where we had playing rights at Fairmont when we were at university.

“I’ve always loved the place and, with Chloe living there, the opportunity has been there for me to spend time there and it’s a great place to live if you are a golfer.”

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As was his spell at Stirling, where Laird saw his game come on leaps and bounds under the guidance of former Italian Open winner Dean Robertson, the university’s high performance golf coach.

“Dean is so enthusiastic and he certainly helped me a lot in my first couple of years,” admitted Laird. “I was a scratch golfer essentially when I started and my game improved quickly in those first two years.

“It was as probably as much down to the actual team that was there at the time as it included Cormac Sharvin and Jack McDonald, both of whom played in the Walker Cup.

“Craig Howie was there as well and he’s doing well on the Challenge Tour this season. There was a lot of experience there for me to learn from and that was huge.

“I went from the worst player to probably being one of the better players and able to try to be a role model, though the last three years was a bit of a struggle due to injuries and stuff and that was pretty frustrating.

“Dean was up at Nairn last week watching guys currently on the team, but he picked me up one day and it is great to have someone watching you and giving you feedback and little nuggets here and there.”

As part of his reward for winning the amateur game’s blue ribbon event, Laird will be teeing in both The Masters and US Open next year, but first up is a home gig in next month’s 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

“It’s brilliant,” he said of that dream opportunity. “I’ve played St George’s quite a lot, way more than any of the other Open venues. It’s nice that I know the course, I don’t need to learn the golf course.

“It’s nice that I’ll be able to just turn up and soak up the atmosphere during the week. It’s exciting to get home and get ready for a major championship, which still doesn’t sound real.”

The R&A confirmed on Saturday that up to 32,000 spectators will be admitted to each competition day in the Claret Jug event in Kent.

The welcome news is due to the tournament being included in the Government’s ‘Events Research Programme’, which will enable a number of events to take place with higher capacities than present guidance permits.

“I’m so glad that fans are going to be there as that is going to be great and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Laird.

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