Team Malta takes bronze in the EGA

Thursday, August 4, 2016, 23:11

Gavin Muscat

TEAM MALTA TAKES BRONZE IN THE EGA

MEN’S EUROPEAN TEAM SHIELD CHAMPIONSHIP

TEAM MALTA composed of Andy Borg, Ruud Critien, JJ Micallef and Luc Schembri managed to bring home the bronze medal in the second edition of the ETSC organised by the European Golf Association and hosted by the Hungarian Golf Federation at the Pannonia Golf & Country Club between the 27th and 30th July 2016.

The championship course was designed by the famous Austrian course designer Hans G. Erhardt and was opened in 1996. The course lies in a valley so the varied forms of its fairways provide a great golf experience. Lakes come into play on eight holes and pin placements present a challenge at the hilly greens. Apart from its par 72 over a length of over 6300 metres from the championship tees, the course requires good play management to avoid strategically placed water and sand hazards as well as discerning eyes and sensitive hands to master the greens’ breaks and fast speeds.

Eleven other countries fielded a men’s team for this second edition of the ETSC. These were Armenia; Bulgaria; Ukraine; Macedonia; Albania; Romania; Latvia; Croatia; Liechtenstein; Serbia; Turkey and Hungary. The format of the championship was a stroke play qualifier on the first day; followed by three match play knockout rounds.

In the match play rounds the teams were required to play two singles and one foursomes match with the condition that play continues until a match is won. Two wins out of three determined the team that would proceed to the next round and the eventual winner and final placing of the teams. The championship was played off scratch.

Despite a wind free day, the difficulty of the course, combined with the extreme heat and humid conditions, manifested itself immediately from the stroke play qualifier on Wednesday as only two players returned a score card under par for the course. These were Ryan Staykov from Bulgaria with a -2 and our very own Andy Borg with the best score for the day of -3.

Coming in with an hour interval between each other, JJ Micallef’s and Ruud Critien’s each with a +3 were sufficient to tie them in 8th place and secured Malta’s aggregate score of +3 and top placing out of the 12 countries. Luc Schembri’s first experience in overseas competitions for 10 years resulted in a +17. Malta’s score of +3 led Bulgaria’s +6, Serbia’s +8, Croatia’s +8, Turkey’s +15, Hungary’s +18, Liechtenstein’s +18 and Latvia’s +24 with these eight countries then scheduled to proceed into match play knockout whilst Ukraine, Albania, Macedonia and Armenia play each other in a round robin format to determine the bottom placings.

Malta’s first place meant that they had to play Latvia in the quarter finals of the match play knockout. Ruud and Luc started play on Thursday as a foursomes pair, followed by Andy and JJ in the singles matches. As Ruud & Luc were losing their match on the 16th, Andy was shaking hands with his opponent one hole behind for a 4&3 win.

This meant that Malta needed JJ’s win to proceed to the semi-finals and the player did not fail. With another 4&3 win, Malta surpassed its showing in last year’s tournaments both by its stroke play qualifier placing as well as by making it through to the semi-finals.

As Serbia won against Turkey; Croatia won over Hungary and Liechtenstein over Bulgaria the semi-finals drew Croatia vs Liechtenstein and Serbia vs Malta. In Serbia, our players found extreme tough players. With the foursomes pairing as well as order of play retained, Malta lost its three matches 3&2; 5&4 and 4&3 respectively. Naturally, our players left the course disappointed with the result – despite the fact that they had not played bad golf. On the day the Serbian players just managed the course that little better and made their putts count more than ours. Indeed, in the end, Serbia won the tournament after losing their foursomes match but winning their two single matches to Croatia.

This left Malta and Liechtenstein to battle it out for third place – countries that bonded fantastically well from the first edition of this tournament even though it was Liechtenstein who threw Malta out in the first stage of the match play stages last year. The friendly banter started already before everyone left the clubhouse on the penultimate day as all players tried to understand who will be playing who with the secrets kept until it was assured that both captains officially put in their teams’ order of play. Malta decided to change positions with Ruud and JJ now as foursomes partners; followed by Luc and then Andy. This threw Liechtenstein a bit as they were hoping for Andy and JJ to be paired and thus they chose their best players to go out in the single matches. The scene was set for Malta to try and regain the honour they had lost to Liechtenstein. And regain it they did… in style.

Ruud and JJ, first out in the foursomes match, were already shaking hands on the 13th for a 7&5 win. Luc going out behind the foursomes showed his intention immediately with his first two strikes at the ball… a piercing tee shot with a slight draw to the centre of the fairway followed by a pin seeking second shot to go straight away 1 up. His confidence held up through the rest of the match and he was 4 up before hitting his tee shot on the 15th. As he looked back down, he saw Andy shaking hands with his opponent concluding a 5&4 win for Malta.

Luc, until that time, had played his best golf for the tournament against arguably the best player from Liechtenstein. He stuck to his own game plan making sure that he found the fairway or green with his every tee shot. It was totally understandable that knowing Malta’s third place was assured and with all other players and officials now following this last match in a totally friendly atmosphere, Luc’s concentration wavered a bit to lose the 15th and 16th before hitting a stupendous tee shot on the par three 17th to assure his own 2&1 win for the match and the third win for Malta over Liechtenstein.

Luc is mentioned slightly more than the others only because it was his match that I followed most over the progression of the tournament. All our players were great ambassadors. They carried the Maltese flag with honour and they did themselves, their club and their country proud. Throughout the tournament, however, when all the bunkers had all been raked, when all the ripples in the hazards had settled, when all the flags had been put back in their respective holes, when all the cards had been submitted… one thing prevailed above everything else… the respect, the courtesy and the friendship among the countries and among all the players. This was yet again so wonderful to experience and so great to be part of.

In conclusion, we are thankful for the EGA and the HGF for organising and hosting this event, for the funding received from the R&A and Sport Malta to enable us to participate, for the PGA’s of Europe to provide the professional coaching especially that of Martin Westphal during the tournament and for Steve Ditchburn who made the trip to support us.





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