31st December 2019
Here are a few thoughts on the 2019 Great British & Irish (GB&I) men’s amateur golf season: –
1. I will start with our defining event, the Amateur Championship. It was great to see James SUGRUE (IRL) deliver a memorable win at Portmarnock to the delight of the home fans who supported the event so well. Sugrue peaked perfectly and having played in The Open and in the Walker Cup in 2019 can now look forward to the remainder of his golfing rewards next year.
2. Ben SCHMIDT (ENG) continued to impress winning four times in 2019. The Yorkshireman became just the fourth player to win both the Brabazon Trophy and Carris Trophy – that’s the men’s and U18 boys’ English Open Stroke Play Championships – in the same year. Some achievement.
Ben Schmidt With The Brabazon Trophy And His Parents (Photo: Jonathan Plaxton)
3. Talking about juniors Conor GOUGH (ENG), Connor MCKINNEY (SCO), Tom MCKIBBIN (IRL) and Joe PAGDIN (ENG) also stood out amongst the U18’s which hopefully bodes well for the immediate future of GB&I golf. McKibbin winning the Junior Invitational and Pagdin getting to the semi-finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness G.C. were particular highlights that stand alongside Ben Schmidt’s wins for me.
4. I am particularly interested to see how the future unfolds for Schmidt and Gough, winners of the two English Amateur Championships this year and our two leading juniors. Schmidt is now focussing on his golf full time and heading towards the professional ranks at some speed whilst Gough appears to be ‘driving with the brakes on’, determined to focus on his education for the time being and happy to enjoy the journey. Followers of amateur golf know there is no right answer to this age old conundrum as everyone is different. Following this tortoise and hare fable over the next few years should be fun.
5. Whilst I failed to record Tom McKibbin’s chip in to win the McEvoy Trophy on the 2nd play-off hole, despite videoing most of the final play at Copt Heath, I did manage to get Josh MCMAHON‘s (ENG) birdie putt on the 18th which won him the Lytham Trophy. The “Yes, Get in !” shout from his caddie Dad will live long in my memory.
Josh McMahon Drops The Best Putt Of His Life (Video: GolfBible)
6. I believe a review of Championship entry exemptions may be required for the leading events in the summer months given how quickly one followers another. James NEWTON (ENG) and Ben SCHMIDT (ENG) were the surprise winners of the Irish Amateur Open and the Brabazon Trophy respectively in 2019 but with low WAGR rankings beforehand and having missed the cut off dates had no way of playing in either the St. Andrews Links Trophy or the Amateur Championship. There needs to be a mechanism – a blank entry to cover such eventualities – to allow recent winners to gain a late entry into subsequent events assuming they wish to compete in them. It doesn’t happen too often but this year not playing in two of our major Championships against his direct peers may have cost Ben Schmidt a place in our Walker Cup team.
7. It was a good year for Scottish amateur golf. Few would argue that Euan WALKER was the outstanding GB&I amateur golfer of 2019 with fellow Walker Cupper Sandy SCOTT not too far behind him. Ryan LUMSDEN also won the prestigious Byron Nelson Award, handed out in late April to a graduating Senior in recognition of their entire collegiate academic and golf career as well as their character and integrity while in college. The Scottish administrators also made the decision to return the Scottish Open Amateur to its late May date from the irrelevant late August fixture it had become since 2018.
Euan Walker With His European Amateur Silver Medal (Photo: EGA)
8. Curtis KNIPES (ENG) and Thomas THURLOWAY (ENG) both came through Final Qualifying to join James Sugrue in The Open Championship field. Watching Jake BURNAGE (ENG) and Tom SLOMAN (ENG) try and follow them at Hollinwell was a highlight of my golfing year. Unusually no amateur made the cut at Royal Portrush so no Silver Medal was awarded this year.
9. GB&I lost the 47th Walker Cup match against USA at Royal Liverpool G.C. I may be deluded but I still believe this was a match we could have and should have won. I don’t think the opposition was quite as strong as they had been in previous years and playing at home we should have been spot on with our selection, pairings and preperation – we weren’t. Perhaps if the weather hadn’t been so pleasant we may have done a little better.
10. Craig WATSON (SCO) stood down / was relieved of his GB&I Men’s Team captaincy duties with Stuart WILSON (SCO), the current Boy’s team captain, promoted as his replacement. Stuart will debut with the men at Royal Porthcawl in July in the next edition of the St. Andrews Trophy match against Continent of Europe. Good luck to him.
11. It wasn’t a vintage year for other GB&I men’s teams either – Sweden beat England in the Final of the European Amateur Team Championship and Europe beat GB&I in the boys’ Jacques Léglise Trophy.
12. WAGR finally announced a new methodology to be introduced to their ranking with effect from January 2020. A more accurate ranking can be expected but at face value it still won’t be better than the SPWAR. If I was The R&A and USGA I’d have used some of my funds to simply take out Fred Solomon and his ‘gold standard’ SPWAR.
13. The R&A and the USGA confirmed that they are reviewing the Rules of Amateur Status to make them easier to understand and apply. The results are set to be published in late 2021 – no rush there then. Lucy LI’s (USA) ‘one time warning’ for her Apple Watch advert at the start of the year (she should have had her amateur status removed) and the more recent California State’s ‘Fair Pay To Play’ Act which means NCAA athletes, including golfers, within that jurisdiction will be able to negotiate endorsement deals from 2023 have accelerated the need for an update.
14. Josh HILL (ENG) qualified to play in both the Dubai Desert Classic and Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in early 2020 after winning the MENA Tour’s Amateur Order of Merit and then the Abu Dhabi Amateur Championship. What an opportunity for him on two courses he knows very well.
15. Ben JONES (ENG) finished the year as GB&I’s highest ranked amateur in the SPWAR after a top 5 finish at the South Beach International Amateur in Florida helped lift him above Caolan RAFFERTY (IRL) a few weeks ago. Scant consolation for his surprise exclusion from the GB&I Walker Cup team.
16. One to watch in 2020 – as I haven’t mentioned him yet I’m going to pick Jake BOLTON (ENG). Jake’s crept up to 37th in the SPWAR and with his confidence high after adding the 2019 Scottish Open Amateur title to his resume, as well as a 4th place finish at this month’s South Beach International Amateur, I expect him to progress further next year.
Jake Bolton With The Scottish Open Amateur Trophy (Photo: Bolton Family)
17. As always a number of players turned Pro, most notably, Jake BURNAGE (ENG), Calum FYFE (SCO), Bailey GILL (ENG), Harry HALL (ENG), Ben HUTCHINSON (ENG), David LANGLEY (ENG), Ryan LUMSDEN (SCO), Billy MCKENZIE (ENG), Josh MCMAHON (ENG), Ronan MULLARNEY (IRL), Conor PURCELL (IRL), Tom SLOMAN (ENG) and Euan WALKER (SCO). I wish them all well in the coming years.
18. Robert MACINTYRE (SCO) and Matthew JORDAN (ENG) gave encouragement to the next generation of amateurs with a number of excellent performances on the European Tour and Challenge Tour. Over in the U.S. on the PGA Tour Viktor Hovland (NOR), Matthew Wolff (USA) and Collin Morikawa (USA) also showed that a quick transition to the big time is possible for the highly talented and fortunate few.
Copyright © 2014-2020, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.