And so, dear readers, we have reached the end of the road. From the first faltering steps that were the early season’s match reports to the flourishing tomes of pseudo-fiction that documented the closing stages of the year for posterity, we’ve all come a long way over the last few months. There remains, then, one more tale to be told- that of the 125th University Match played out on the historic links at Rye. There will be highs and lows, hope and fear, strength and honour. It won’t be brief.
With the academic term over, Oxford’s golfers were able to turn their full attention to the whole week of golf that lay ahead of them, ready to assert dark blue dominance over all the games waiting to be contested. The Blues headed down to Rye on the Sunday evening, checking in to what would become Oxford HQ for the next 7 days- a spacious farmhouse in Bosney which, whilst charming, had some hazardously low ceilings. Ryan and Cansfield were in all sorts of trouble. Now, the first thing to be fought over in any Varsity week is a sleeping space- with beds always at a minimum it’s inevitably a scramble to avoid having to settle down in the arms of your foursomes partner on the sofa. Thankfully, the farmhouse came with an adjacent outhouse containing a bed, perfect for the man looking for some glorious isolation in the evenings. It didn’t take much persuasion to get someone into this apartment, with Bastianello jumping at the opportunity (budgie smugglers in hand). Hardy pulled the short straw and ended up bunking with notorious sleep-talkers Charteris-Black and Ryan whose nightly conversations reached Delphic levels of lucidity with topics ranging from house music to whether Jim Mercurio hunts for birdies. He does.
The Blues, joined by the Divots and Ladies, turned up to a sun soaked Rye on Monday morning for a full day of practice. The old course was in stunning condition and with rumours circulating that the already glassy greens were only due to be cut and ironed more as the week progressed, all knew that it would be razor sharp short games that would decide the outcome of this Varsity Match. That said, the players poured over the course planners making sure they knew exactly where the right misses were on every hole. This seemed a strange concept to some- it was left unclear whether the 4-inch fat or sniping hook is ever a good miss. Brian Wilson just told us “I’m just not convinced I’ve ever really missed.” After a fruitful day at the grind, the team retired home for the nightly ritual of a wonderful home-cooked meal, a couple of beers and listening to Basti and Mercurio exchange accent based insults, a few of which were actually funny.
Tuesday once again dawned sunny which, combined with the wind, was actually becoming a real issue for the fairer skinned in OUGC- faces were being shredded like the Bridge dance floor on a Thursday evening, doubles akimbo. Armed with silly levels of moisturizer and the faux-logic that “this time next week, we’ll just be really, really tanned”, the boys pressed on. But Today was not about the boys, indeed it was all about the ladies who had the first opportunity to draw light blue blood. Unfortunately, the morning foursomes did not get underway as Oxford would have hoped with all three of the matches going narrowly Cambridge’s way. Convinced that a turnaround was possible in the afternoon singles, Captain Lise Lorup led the charge taking down the Cambridge number one seed, the lady in red herself, Francesca Bastianello. Audrey “FTT” Davies then played some stellar golf to win her match on the 17th with a clutch par to keep the Oxford salvo alive. Cambridge, however, proved too strong in the other matches with the only other half point coming from Sabrina Sayeed leaving the final result at 6.5-2.5 to Cambridge.
Wednesday was the turn of the Divots and Stymies to do battle on the square greens at Littlestone. There were some intriguing subplots at play in the lead up to this match which kept the fans engaged right up to the get go- would Wilmore and McCluskey lay off the sauce for long enough to play golf? Would James Black finally win a point in a Varsity Match? Would Oxford’s ex lovable rogue George Croft actually play golf for Cambridge? All these questions would be answered in the fullness of time. What was certain though, was that the Stymies’ jumpers were absolutely hideous.
The first two foursomes matches went all the way to the wire, both ending in halves before Cambridge sneaked their noses in front by taking the third game. Then it happened. The stars aligned. The prophecies were fulfilled. Indeed, playing with his long-term partner in crime and online Oxford celebrity Will Dufton, Blacky had finally broken the duck at the fifth time of asking by convincingly taking down the Stymies fourth pair in what was either a stunning display of golf or a spectacular display of lightening chat. Oxford also won the anchor game to go in at lunch 3-2 up. There was no room for complacency though; this was exactly the position the Divots had been in at Deal 12 months previously when the final result had been a comprehensive 11.5-3.5 loss (in fact “Divots VM singles 2013” still comes up just below the battle of Thessalonica on Wikipedia’s list of biggest massacres). Oxford got off to a slow start in the afternoon with Wilmore and Kamm both enduring narrow defeats on the 18th. HMS Divot was steadied in the third match with a superb win from debutant Tom Rollinson before big hitting South African Terry Scott added another dark blue point. Cambridge took their chances well in the other matches though and with three games left on the course, the score stood at 7-5 in favour of the light blues. Morris Kim, however, produced one of the most clutch moments of the week in his match by jamming his 3-iron on the treacherous par 3 17th to take the point. This was quickly followed by a sturdy win by McCluskey to level up the scores at 7-7. It was all down to Bealing in the final match. The game went all the way but eventually Cambridge prevailed, rounding off a narrow, but enthralling 8-7 defeat for the Divots.
Desperate to avenge themselves at dinner, the Divots turned up looking for chat but were instead met by some Stymies who didn’t seem to want to play Stymies rules; very odd. But if things were dry at the dinner, they certainly weren’t by the time the Divots got back to their house and they were positively wet by the time McCluskey woke up the following morning. Miaow.
Next up on Thursday was the all important dinner match to decide which University would pick up the bill for the Blues dinner on the Saturday night. Conditions were tough with the greens running at their quickest all week and the wind up. Yet another Bastianello (Freddie) was involved in this for Cambridge but with his big brother Alex unwilling to divulge any needling chirps to be used on the course, the Oxford double of Nichamin and Charteris-Black would just have to beat him at golf instead. And in the morning they did. The boys put on a stunning display to win the foursomes 4&3 with some of the most outrageous up and downs this side of Seve being bandied around freely. The Cambridge pair found their form after lunch, though, and played some really solid stuff to just pinch both of the singles matches meaning that dinner would unfortunately be paid for from dark blue pockets this year.
And so the big match was almost upon us. The team went through their usual customs on the night before the foursomes with everyone having their own superstitions: Cansfield, a wise man who often prefers the Spoon of Ingenuity over the Driver of Luck, whispered sweet nothings to his clubs whilst he cleaned them; Padre van Wyk listened to his favorite song, ‘Dance Wiv Me’ by Dizzee Rascal, on repeat (we’re all still wondering if he’ll ever get the line ‘you’ve got a body to die for, let me merk it’ into a sermon); and Hardy turned to the book he’s currently teaching his year 11s, The Catcher In The Rye, for some advice on how to play the 10th. As it turns out, teenage sexual frustration is not the best route to a par. Our invaluable coach JC also provided the dinner table with some of the best chat OUGC has ever seen- an exploration of father-son relationships or something. Parisian cats went wild.
The Varsity Match got underway in quite benign conditions on the Friday. Overnight rain had softened the greens and there was little wind to speak of. Oxford made hay and by lunch time Hardy and van Wyk were 3 up, Ryan and van Wijk were 1up, Reynolds and Wilson were 8up and the other two matches were all square. A very promising start from the dark blues. Mercurio and Crummey, the archetypal married couple, came out guns blazing in the afternoon and quickly stormed to a 5up lead through 9. They would maintain this lead coming home and with an immaculate 2 at the short 14th, take the first full point of the match 5&4. Bastianello and Cansfield did exactly the same thing, powering out in the afternoon on their way to a 3&2 victory. A strong fight back in the afternoon from the Cambridge pair playing Reynolds and Wilson gave the boys a momentary scare but one that was soon abated by some solid golf that led to an eventual 3&2 vicory. Ryan and van Wijk’s match was a real battle of Odyssian proportions, both in drama and the inordinate time taken to reach home. After fighting back from 3 down on the 11th to find themselves 1up on the 16th, Cambridge’s Atherton holed a monstrous putt from off the green to tie up the match and this is how it would end after Ryan rammed home a putt for the half on 18. In the fifth match, the strong Cambridge pairing of Giddins and Birrell-Gray played some superb golf after lunch to sneak the match away from the Oxford pairing. That did leave Oxford in the commanding position of being 3.5-1.5 points up after the Friday Foursomes. However, the legendary dark blue comeback of 2013 on the fabled links of St George from the same scoreline was fresh in the memory of the players and all knew that this match was far from a done deal.
The teams reconvened early on Saturday morning to contest the singles that would eventually decide the outcome of the Varsity Match, with Oxford needing 4.5 points from the available 10 to win the title outright. Things got off to a flyer in the Captains’ match. Matthew “range is good” Reynolds stormed to a 9up lead at lunch and quickly started trending on twitter as ‘The Butcher Of Rye’. A spirited retaliation from Cambridge skipper Cumberland after lunch saw the match prolonged to the 12th with Reynolds quite happy to not have to pay any more than the base 7 shillings and 6 pence for his dog license. The next three matches were all thrillers with a combination of superb comebacks, moderate jibbing and extremely considered pre-shot routines leading Mercurio, Ryan and Bastianello to the 36th hole. But in a display of clutch golf that OUGC have become renowned for (perhaps) all three of the matches went Oxfords way and with news coming in to the clubhouse that Wilson had just won his match 5&4, that meant that the Blues had crossed the winning threshold. It was just as well, because Cambridge produced some fine golf of their own in the other five matches to win all of them. But no one cared- the singles had been halved at 5 points each and Oxford had taken their fifth varsity match in a row by a margin of 8.5 points to 6.5. The celebrations began. It might be worth pointing out that if anyone wants a more in depth account of the exact chronology of the match, the CUGC twitter page might be worth checking out as it provides a near shot-by-shot coverage of the two days. Best to wear your wellies though, the number of factual statements followed by #GDBOs make for some of the wettest chat since Noah.
The 125th University Match at Rye was one of firsts- it was the first time Oxford have won five in a row for a number of decades, it was the first time Bastianello tried his hand at being clutch and it was the first time the average height of the dinner match has been below 5’8’’. But through all of this, it was an exhibition of what amateur golf truly stands for and all those returning for another year with OUGC are already chomping at the bit to do it all over again in 12 months at Hoylake.