Joe Long and Joe Harvey are usually to be found next to one another on the practice ground at the Kendleshire golf club near Bristol. Two weeks ago, they pushed each other hard in a duel for the midweek medal.
At Royal Birkdale on Sunday, you could say there was rather more at stake for this pair of not-so-ordinary Joes. How about 36 holes to decide which of them gets a gold-embossed invitation this Christmas to the 2021 Masters at Augusta National, not to mention exemptions into the field at the US Open in California next June and the Open at Royal St George’s in July?
The long and lustrous history of the Amateur Championship has witnessed some wonderful finals. In 1984, not far from Birkdale at Formby, Jose-Maria Olazabal defeated Colin Montgomerie.
At Royal Liverpool in the golden age of amateur golf, the great American Bobby Jones beat Roger Wethered in 1930 on his way to winning the Open and Amateur Championships on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season for one of the game’s historic achievements, the Impregnable Quadrilateral.
Here, in the first all-English tussle this century, was another intoxicating occasion to add to the top drawer.
The extraordinary saga of two members from the same club beating all-comers from all nationalities to contest arguably the biggest title in the amateur game, with Long eventually prevailing 4&3.
‘It just seems crazy that we should be playing each other with so much on the line,’ said Harvey, who did not expect to make the final and had nowhere to stay on Saturday night before Long offered him a spare bed in his rental accommodation.
And so a week that began with weather so bad the first qualifying round had to be abandoned, ended mercifully on a blissful late summer’s day. There is no better place in British golf on such a day and the only regret, of course, was the absence of the 5,000-strong crowd or more who would undoubtedly have shown up to watch.
Long came into the event with the bigger reputation of the two 23-year-olds and, while 18-hole match play can be something of a lottery, there are usually fewer surprises over the longer format.
‘I was nervous at the start, I think we both were,’ said Long. ‘You’re desperately trying to stay in the present and not think about what’s at stake.’
It was Long who struck first with a birdie at the fifth and while Harvey would square matters two holes later, the former would actually never be behind at any point in the engrossing encounter.
Successive birdies at the eighth and ninth gave Long a two-up lead and thereafter Harvey was always playing catch-up. The game underdog put up a good fist of it, before Long showed his class over the final holes as fatigue set in. Long closed out the battle of the Bristolians with a birdie at the 33rd for a scoreline that was harsh on his friend.
Finally, Long allowed himself to think about the trio of priceless perks. ‘Wow, when you spell them out, it really brings it home,’ he said. ‘It’s wonderful, but hard at the same time, because it’s tough to see a good mate lose. I guess that is the sport we play.’
Harvey took it on the chin. ‘If someone had said to me at the start of the week I’d make it to the final I’d have been chuffed,’ he said. ‘I’m gutted to lose but so happy for him on a personal level. Congrats to Joe Long, he deserves it.’