Yes, the Putting Predictor is back - cue fanfare and applause - to cast an eye over the protaganists in this weekends BMGA British Matchplay Championship, being held on Sunday 22nd July at the Lost Island Adventure Golf course in Sidcup.
After my British Championships post, and the frenzy of activity that followed to find out 'who is the Putting Predictor', some players felt that I was perhaps too harsh on some players and that I should temper my comments in any future blogs.
My response? Life can be tough and the truth hurts sometimes. The Putting Predictor just speaks their mind. To quote the late great Frank Drebbin "The truth hurts, doesn't it? Oh sure, maybe not as much as landing on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts!"
I think that says it all.
So for those of a sensitive disposition, perhaps it's best you go and find another blog and let the grown ups have their say...
So, in BMGA official Matchplay ranking order here are the contenders for this years British Matchplay Championship:
Sean Homer (1) - The defending champion, looking to make it three-in-a-row. Having been gifted the 2010 title by defeating the might of the BMGA's child labour, had a much harder route last year, taking out the British Champion (Rutherford) in the round of 16 and the UK number 1 (Smith) in the final. A very tough and experienced matchplay player, demonstrated by coming back from 3 down in the final. Sometimes a slow starter but if he gets out of his group, probably a slight favourite going into the knockout stages.
Brad Shepherd (2) - 4th in 2010 and 3rd in 2011, having been beaten in the semi-final by Homer. A great competitor and capable of beating everyone in the field (was one putt away from beating the Champion in the group stages). Perhaps a bit fragile when it comes to the real sharp end of a match but if he keeps his game face on throughout the day could produce his best finish in the competition to date.
Marc Chapman (3) - 8th in 2010 and 9th in 2011. Took out Smith in the first round in 2010 only to be dumped out of the event in the quarterfinals by Shepherd. Fell at the first knockout stage in 2011 however and has yet to maintain a run of form throughout the premier matchplay event. If he gets a favourable draw then could do well but likely to fall to the first quality player he encounters in the knockout stages.
Michael Smith (4) - 17th in 2010 and runner-up in 2011. A rare event on the tour for the Terminator of UK minigolf i.e. one that he has yet to win. Having been beaten in the first match of the 2010 event, Smith went on an unbeaten run in the Matchplay Championships right up to the final in 2011 until he was stopped in his tracks by the reigning champion. That said, he didn't have the toughest group and struggled to get through the very early KO stages but once on a roll, he is a hard man to beat. But unlike his strokeplay form, he is not unbeatable. As long as the draw keeps them apart, we could see another repeat of the 2011 Smith v Homer final.
Tony Kelly (5) - 6th in 2010 and 10th in 2011. The 'nearly man' of the KMGC. Yet to win a tour event that doesn't have the word Senior in the title. Beaten in the quarter finals in 2010 after a relatively easy passage and then following a superb group phase (winning three out of three) got punted out of the event by team mate Exall in the round of 16. Has been very close to taking a win on the Explorers course so has to be in with a shot of going further this year. If he can keep calm under the overwhelming barrage of tournament stats then could be one to watch on Sunday.
Paul Johnson (7) - 15th in 2010 and 7th in 2011. The main man in the Midlands team when it comes to Matchplay although JPJ will be hoping to avoid his Matchplay nemesis Homer who has dumped him out of the event twice in the past 2 years. If he doesn't get sidetracked and put off by Johnson jr, he could pull off a few surprises - that is of course unless he faces the reigning champ at which point he may as well pack his bags and go back to Brum.
Scott Lancley (8) - 14th in 2010 and 2011. A consistent performer in terms of results but unfortunately the results have been pretty poor. Has yet to show what he can do when it comes to matchplay. Like Johnson, he has been KO'd in the competition for the past 2 years by the same player so will be hoping to avoid the same fate this year if he comes face to face with his nemesis, the boy from London, Brad Shepherd. If the stars align and Lancley feels on top of his game then should be pushing for the top 8 on Sunday.
John McIver (11) - 20th in 2010 and 18th in 2011. The old stager. The sartorially elegant minigolfer. Planet Hastings' last hope. And actually in suprisingly good form so far in 2012. But away from the home comforts of Hastings seafront it is hard to see him challenging for the title this year on a course that he has had little success to date. Fell at the first hurdle in 2010 and failed to make it out of his group in 2011. Could be the biggest name to fall in the group stages if he's not on his game from match 1.
Marion Homer (12) - 30th in 2010 and 12th in 2011. Not yet shown the form in the individual matchplay championship that has been evident in the Doubles and the Club events over the past couple of seasons. Unlucky in the draw in 2010 running into, and losing to, the Planet Hastings pairing of McIver and Davies in subsequent rounds but took a couple of nice scalps in the 2011 event by beating Thomas in the group and Dennelly junior in the knockout phases. If the draw is kind Homer could make it through to the last 16. Either way, she will leave a lasting mark on the events this Sunday as she takes a decent photograph.
Adam Kelly (13) - 6th in 2010 (did not play in 2011). Made a major splash in the 2010 event when, having coasted through the first round, caused the biggest shock of the 2nd round by knocking out the pre-tournament favourite, Peter Emmerson. On a high from this victory Kelly then became the subject of another major shock when he got heavily beaten by the underdog junior Leo Kukielka in the quarter finals. Always a dangerous player and with a good knowledge of the course, Kelly the Younger should be right in the mix at the end of the day although will come into this event with a big target on his back as one of the favourites - time will tell if he can cope with the pressure of being one of the big guns.
Andy Exall (15) - 21st in 2010 and 6th in 2011 having won the title in 2009. Not yet repeated the highs of 2009 having been beaten in the first round in 2010 and then running into an in form Shepherd in the quarter finals last year. Knows Sidcup very well and always hard to beat. Surely 2012 is the time for Exall to live up to the hype and be pushing to take the title again?
Chris Smith (16) - 4th in 2011. Took the competition by surprise last year by making it through to the semi finals where he was dispatched by his own son. Came out of a tough group but had a fairly easy ride through to the semi's. Tied over 18 holes in the first match of the KMGC vs ROW against Homer so has some pedigree but can't see him making it as far this year (unless of course he lucks out and avoids all of the big guns until the semis - again!).
Nick Sandqvist (19) - 5th in 2011. The BMGA's very own Swede cruised through the group stages beating Chapman comfortably in the process. Then beat him again in the round of 16 before being dispatched by Smith. If the Sandqvist that turned up at the British Championships arrives at the course on Sunday then he could go far. If the 'other' Nick turns up then he might fall at the group stages. It's an early start so the omens don't look good.
Seth Thomas (20) - 11th in 2011. Tied at the top of his group in his debut matchplay championship, even though he did get beaten by a lady in the process. Crashed out to Jones in the Round of 16, finishing the day off with a victory to show what could have been. But Sidcup has proven to be a strong hunting ground for Thomas (if you overlook his somewhat underwhelming British Open performance) culminating in his victory against the odds in the Kent Open, leaving all of Kents finest trailing in his wake. Could do well - in fact should do well - perhaps an outside bet for a top 4 finish on Sunday.
James Rutherford (23) - 15th in 2011. After strolling through an albeit pretty easy group, Ruthers was one of the pre-tournament favourites and expected to challenge for the title. However after running into and losing to an in form Homer in the round of 16 he then managed to lose his next 2 games aswell before finally showing the true form of the then British Champion by destroying junior Donnelly in the last game of the day. A great player with high expectations at Sidcup. Dissapointed in the British Open at the course last year but surely won't crash and burn again at this weekends Matchplay? Surely not...
Alan Norman (25) - 26th in 2010 (did not play in 2011). An underwhelming 2010 event for the man from London. Lost to Lancley, then lost to Johnson jr before beating a local novice and then a lady. Not the best or most impressive of records it has to be said. But Norman can sometimes produce rounds of extraordinary brilliance - usually prior to producing one of sheer averageness. A slow and deliberate player - this could unsettle the lesser lights on Sunday so could see Norman mirror his London team mate and go far in the event. Or possibly not.
Alex Pragnell (29) - 20th in 2011. The Enigma. It's anyones guess what Perfect Parr will do in the event on Sunday - for what it's worth I think we will see a better performance than in his matchplay debut although it will take a favourable draw to see Pragnell move into the top 16 shoot out. He got taken apart in the matchplay part of the Players Championship on the same course in 2011 and had a varied day at the recent KMGC v ROW event. One thing is certain though, Praggers will show his consistently inconsistent form but I predict that at some point he will take one MAJOR scalp in the event.
Will Donnelly (32) and David Donnelly (36) - 16th and 21st respectively in 2011. Significantly improved players a year on and very comfortable on the Explorers course. The younger D often eclipses the older D but I think the tables will turn in this years event due to Will's habit of paying more attention to what the other players are doing around him than concentrating on his own game. Dependant on the draw I could see both players making it through to the top 16 shootout but will be unceremonially dumped out of the event when faced with any of the top players.
Brenda Smith, Alastair Shaw, Freddie Blackburn Shaw - all making their BMC debut in 2012. Brenda got a taste of matchplay in the KMGC vs ROW event in March and has a strong coaching team behind her and had a decent showing at the British Championships this year. But unlikely to get out of her group in the top half. Team Shaw both played the course in the 2011 British Open and could see both taking a few wins this weekend. If it came to a head to head, Shaw the younger would have too much firepower for his dad to cope with so expect FBS to make the top 16 shootout.
Missing in action for 2012:
Chris Jones (6) - 16th in 2010 and 8th in 2011 and the former Masters champion was looking for a top 5 finish this year but unfortunately a late withdrawal from the 2012 event means that Shepherd remains Londons main hope for honours this year.
Richard Gottfried (9) - Runner up in 2010 and a broken man since losing in the final at Splash Point. Rumours of Police Academy 8 showing on ITV4+1 at the weekend put paid to any likely return for this years event.
Oliver Florence (10) - 11th in 2010 and 19th in 2011. Seems to prefer Worm Charming to minigolf these days so the sporting world will be denied the chance to witness the ongoing battle of supremacy between Praggers and the Machine. Shame indeed.
Chris Harding (14) - The Midlands maestro's reluctance to play on Kent turf means that his 9th place in 2010 having beaten the 2009 champion in the first round remains his highest honour in the Matchplay main event.
With the draw taking place on Saturday afternoon, the Putting Predictor may return with some group predictions (presuming the BMGA actually manage to upload the groups onto their website in time).
Until next time,