Twelve months ago, Darren Walkley was teeing it up in the Selborne Salver for the first time in eight years – and came within a whisker of claiming the famous silverware.

Having been won in the past by the likes of Ross Fisher, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick – who all went on to play in the Ryder Cup after becoming European Tour winners – Walkley’s own experience in the pro ranks was one of disappointment and frustration.

Having returned to the amateur ranks in 2022 after a succession of niggling injuries had left him scraping for chances to earn enough money to support his young family on the mini-pro circuits, Walkley showed he had not lost his appetite for competing for the biggest prizes in the amateur game.

The former Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Champion only lost a play-off at the third-extra hole in last year’s Selborne Salver at Blackmoor GC.

England junior Zac Little, whose father Sam was a long-time European and Challenge Tour player, took the title with a fine birdie in the rapidly fading light.

Walkley followed that near miss last April with a second appearance in the county championship final at Hockley, in June – only losing to Stoneham’s Ryan Henley, who became just the fourth player to claim the title for a fourth time in 130 years. Darren also made a winning return to the Hampshire first team, helping them win the South Division and then October’s South East League Final against B.B.&O.

That sensational form – he also claimed a first Courage Trophy at the county strokeplay championship in September – wrapped up the 2023 Hampshire Order of Merit, having been the first-ever winner, taking the title in 2014 and 2015.

His return to the amateur ranks was marked with more honours in the 2024 Havant Borough Sports Association Awards in February.

The Liphook GC member picked up the Senior Sportsman’s Award for a third time – having won in 2015 and 2016 – and claimed the double with the Sports Personality of the Year award, which he also claimed in 2015.

Darren told the event’s host Andrew Moon, from BBC Radio Solent: “I play for different reasons now.

“If I play poorly it doesn’t matter, it’s just a bit of fun. But when I tee it up I still go out there and want to win.

“I got back in the Hampshire squad and got the competitive juices flowing again, so I entered as many events as I could – and managed to win a few in 2023.”

Walkley has also been a member at Southsea and Hayling Golf Clubs over the past 15 years, having been something of a late developer getting down to scratch in his early 20s.

Darren turned pro after appearing for Hampshire in the 2015 English County Finals, in which he lost the deciding game to Lancashire, going on to play on the EuroPro, European Challenge Tour and Germany’s Pro Tour, playing alongside some of the top Continental players on the DP World Tour currently.

“I am entering some of the bigger events like the English Amateur and the Brabazon Trophy this year, but I have the kids now so I can’t be selfish about it anymore and just play when I want,” said the 33-year-old, who has worked in his local pro shop to support his family while playing professionally, and is now a carpenter by trade.

Little is not defending the trophy – first played for back in 1975 – he is in his first year of a golf scholarship at University of Central Arkansas, in the States. But Walkley, who first played in the Salver back in 2013, will be keen to test his game over Blackmoor’s heathland course.

For it will also host this summer’s county championship in two months’ time – even if he is resisting the temptation to focus his thoughts too much on going one better this weekend.

By Andrew Griffin