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Amateur hour is all too short

In a wonderfully tense final, the Amateur Championship was won by Alan Dunbar from Rathmore, Northern Ireland, after a titanic battle with 17-year-old Matthias Schwab from Austria. Austria! What a very good sign of the game’s growth through Europe and, who knows, there may be more young talent to emerge from some unlikely places.

I have always followed amateur golf with a very keen eye. That’s because I’m old enough to remember when there were ‘lifetime’ amateur players – Jimmy Bruen, Sam McCready, Cecil Ewing, Joe Carr, Michael Bonallack, Ronnie White, Philip Scrutton, Charlie Green, Peter McEvoy, Guy Wolstenholme…the list went on and on. These days, young amateurs hardly wear out their first left-hand glove before they turn pro and either flatter to deceive, do well early on and stick at it, or make a hasty retreat back to the amateur ranks.

Gary Wolstenholme was perhaps the last true-blue amateur, but when he reached 50 he decided to have his go in the paid senior ranks and has done very well indeed, despite having numerous back problems.

It’s interesting to look back to recent Walker Cup matches and see how many of the players have developed in the professional game and others, who promised so much, have disappeared into the great beyond. Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Danny Willett, Oliver Fisher and David Horsey – all of them have made their presence felt in the professional ranks to varying degrees of success. But what happened to the likes of Messrs Moul, Nolan, Davies, Matthews, Lockerbie, Dinwiddie – that list goes on and on as well.

In capturing the Amateur
Championship at Royal Troon, Alan Dunbar became the latest in a long line of distinguished Irish amateur golfers
I have always said you must not take away young players’ dreams, but I wonder what the counties think of all the money and effort they plough in to encouraging young people to reach county and Walker Cup standard only to see them, sometimes after only a small amount of success, disappearing into the professional ranks? It would appear that many, certainly of the larger counties, are nothing more than a training ground for the European Tour.

I suppose that might be a good thing; there weren’t such opportunities 40 or 50 years ago. Yet, probably because of the economic situation and the possible rewards for success as a professional golfer, we don’t have any lifetime amateurs today, certainly not at the highest level. And I miss them. They brought an added excitement to the game, rather like those old Corinthians of years ago – the glorified amateur, the sort of chap who once rode in the Derby and finished fifth, got through three rounds at Wimbledon, was beaten in the semi-finals of the Amateur Championship and played dozens of times for his county. If you looked more deeply into his CV, you discovered that he rowed for Oxford, not in the winning team but only pipped by half a length, won a silver medal at fencing in the Olympics and competed in motor races with Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss. Oh, and he was a very good pistol shot and a world-class ballroom dancer. Where is such a man today?

If any young, up-and-coming talented player ever asked me for advice I would suggest delaying the leap into professional golf. If you played once in a Walker Cup team, why not twice (if you’re good enough), like Harrington did? Certainly, try to win the championship of your country, whether it be England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Take your time, consolidate, look at your game, then take that game into the professional ranks if that is your desire but please don’t immediately dismantle everything. Your particular style has got you into that position in the first place, so perhaps the only thing you need to do is try and tighten up your mental attitude and learn how to ‘play’. You hit the ball well, but now the real business starts of learning how to play.

Harrington is a classic case; a fairly late developer in these modern times and rather unsure when he entered the professional ranks about whether or not he was doing the right thing. But what a wonderful run of success he has had, having won three major championships at the time of writing. Who knows, there may be more to come. I do hope so for, although at times he loves to appear rather eccentric, he is very sound value for money. I feel he sometimes overdoes things, but that is another story.

So I raise my glass to the amateurs. I have watched many of them play over the years and I can only say “I miss you”. And, by the way, what about Stephanie Meadow of Royal Portrush winning the British Ladies Amateur Championship? Her, Dunbar, McIlroy, McDowell, Clarke, Harrington – there really must be something in that Irish air!

September 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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