24th December 2015
Every amateur golf season seems to be memorable for some reason but as I look back on 2015 I can’t help but think this year has been extra special.
We have seen exciting Championships, notable Major and Tour performances by amateurs and to cap it all off a stunning Walker Cup success for Great Britain & Ireland (GB&I). It is not easy for amateur golf to usurp the pro game in the media but during 2015 it has managed to do it quite frequently.
By way of an annual review I have drawn up a ‘My Top 15 in 2015’ list. I am not looking to re-invent the world rankings but simply note those players that have impacted me most to tell the story of the year. I also make no apologies for a little GB&I bias here.
1. BRYSON DECHAMBEAU (USA)
Some people say Miguel Ángel Jiménez is the ‘most interesting man in golf’. I never thought it myself and I certainly don’t at the end of 2015.
California’s 22 year old Bryson DeChambeau ticks a few more boxes for me – be it the name, the ‘Hogan cap’, the thick gripped irons all at the same 7-iron length or the ball dipping in water and epsom salts to ensure they each have a perfect centre of gravity. It is easy to be different, it is another to win different – which is what he’s being doing.
Bryson, let’s call him that because I am sure we all will be soon – as in Tiger and Rory – won both the U.S. Amateur Championship and the NCAA Division I Individual Title in a memorable breakout season. Not many people do that same season double – to be precise just Jack Nicklaus (1961), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1996) and Ryan Moore (2004) have done it before him.
He beat Derek Bard 7&6 in the 36-hole U.S. Amateur final at Chicago’s Olympia Fields, having already secured the NCAA title by finishing 1-shot ahead of Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan with a 280 (-8) total at the Concession CC in Florida.
Bryson DeChambeau – 2015 U.S. Amateur Champion (© USGA)
Despite a saw neck at Royal Lytham he won two and halved one of his three matches at The Walker Cup in September too.
With Southern Methodist University (SMU) kicked out of the 2016 NCAA’s due to historic recruiting violations DeChambeau has recently left college – not finishing his Physics Major – and started to compete in professional events as he looks forward to taking up his Masters invitation in April. In November he tied 2nd at the Australian Masters at Huntingdale GC on 278 (-6), 2-shots behind home favourite Peter Senior.
2. MARCUS KINHULT (SWE)
Marcus Kinhult won the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley by 1-shot from Davis Shore in late April then followed it up with the Lytham Trophy just a week later. The latter he won by a staggering 8-shots in tough conditions.
Marcus Kinhult – Winner of the 2015 Lytham Trophy (© GolfChannel.com)
In June he led the Nordea Masters on the European Tour after 36 holes in Sweden before finishing tied 33rd. He showed that was no fluke in July by then finishing tied 10th at the Omega European Masters in the week of his 19th birthday.
To put the icing on the cake – not only to a fine year but sadly to his amateur career – Marcus recently strolled through European Tour Final Q-School finishing 17th and turning Pro immediately.
Currently 951st in the Official World Golf Rankings it will be interesting to watch his progress in the coming years.
3. ROMAIN LANGASQUE (FRA)
The highlight of Romain Langasque’s year was clearly his Amateur Championship victory at Carnoustie. He beat Scotland’s Grant Forrest by 4&2 in the Final.
Playing a global schedule he also enjoyed six other top 6 finishes during the year in Argentina, South Africa and Great Britain. He won the Southern Cross Invitational in March in Argentina and the Mouchy Cup back home in France.
His season tailed off a little as he struggled to take advantage of a number of pro tournament invites that came his way. He did make the cut at The Open Championship which in any other year would have been a notable achievement for an amateur.
4. CORMAC SHARVIN (IRE)
Cormac enjoyed a great year and in a hard fought contest is probably my top GB&I amateur of 2015, just pipping Paul Dunne, Jimmy Mullen and Marco Penge.
Cormac Sharvin Reflects on the Walker Cup and his 2015 (© BBC Sport)
His victories at the Brabazon Trophy (English Amateur Open) and unbeaten Walker Cup (P3 W3 L0 H0) were clearly the highlights. I really enjoyed his ‘heart on the sleeve’ performance at the Walker Cup which has tipped the balance in his favour.
His overall consistency, with Top 5 finishes at the Lytham Trophy, Irish Amateur Open and Scottish Amateur Open really impressed me.
5. MARCO PENGE (ENG)
Marco Penge – 2015 Carrick Neill Scottish Open Strokeplay Champion (© Kenny Smith)
By any measure 2015 was a superb season for 17 year old Marco Penge. He certainly won more events than any other GB&I amateur golfer.
He destroyed three Junior U18 fields, easily winning the Faldo Series Wales Qualifier (+2, to win by 6 shots), the McEvoy Trophy (-12, to win by 8 shots) and the Sir Henry Cooper Masters (-14, to win by 7 shots).
He capped the year off by winning the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play (-6), his first Men’s win against a strong field at Moray GC.
He also got to the quarter finals of the English Men’s Amateur and reached the semi-finals of the British Boys, eventually losing to the winner, Marcus Svensson. If he had won the Boys or another late season Men’s event he may well have had to be picked for the Walker Cup. However, late season injuries saw him tail off and drift out of that picture.
Marco is clearly a great prospect. The question is what does he do in 2016 ? Push on to a full Men’s schedule or continue to play both Junior and Men’s, incorporating leading Junior events for which he will still be eligible. There is nothing like winning and having the chance to win to gain experience and breed confidence.
6. PAUL DUNNE (IRE)
Paul Dunne finished his time at UAB with a 5th place result at the NCAA Division I Individual Championship with a 283 (-5) total. However, a final round 73 (+1) meant this was a famous title he perhaps let slip – whilst easy to say a 70 would have tied him with DeChambeau.
He was the first name on my Walker Cup team sheet which tells you how good he is.
Paul followed a tied 9th finish at the Brabazon and a tied 8th in the European Team Stroke Play (SP) Qualifier with a memorable Open Championship performance at St. Andrews (his tied 30th telling only a little of the full story, having won the Final Qualifier at Woburn for the second successive year). He then tied 11th at the International European Amateur in Slovakia and reached the quarter-finals of the US Amateur Match Play stage in late August.
He finished the season by turning Pro where he quickly settled in; a tied 19th at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and a tied 25th at the British Masters being the early highlights. To cap a great year he then played his way through every stage of the European Tour Q-School to secure a 2016 card.
Earlier this week the Irish Golf Writers’ Association voted Paul their Men’s Amateur Player Of The Year, an award he also won in 2014.
Perhaps he should be higher in my 2015 list but without a win I have chosen to scale him back.
7. JIMMY MULLEN (ENG)
Devon’s Jimmy Mullen became just the fourth GB&I player – after Andrew Oldcorn, Paul Casey and Luke Donald – to deliver a maximum four points in a Walker Cup match. He continued his strong foursomes partnership with Ashley Chesters (perhaps unlucky not to be on this list himself) successfully leading GB&I out on both days at Royal Lytham. He also beat Denny McCarthy twice in singles. That’s the same Denny McCarthy that subsequently finished tied 9th at the Web.com Tour Q-School to secure his 2016 playing privileges in the U.S.
Jimmy Mullen (Photo: Getty Images / The R&A)
Earlier in the year Mullen won the Welsh Open Stroke Play Championship and finished tied 3rd at The Duncan Putter.
He turned Pro in late September and unsurprisingly made an encouraging pro debut at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (tied 30th). He finished the year with a good run at the European Tour Q-School, winning his Second stage qualifier at El Saler before sadly coming up short in the Final.
8. JON RAHM (ESP)
Jon Rahm Rodriguez (21), who is now a Senior at Arizona state, has sat on or near the top of the Amateur Rankings throughout most of 2015. He continued to shine on the US College circuit – with four wins and eight top 5’s – and was rewarded with the 2015 Mark McCormack Award for being the top amateur player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR) at the end of August. That in itself will gain him entry into both the 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championships.
Jon Rahm competing in the 2015 Waste Management Open in Arizona (© PGA Tour).
He also received the prestigious 2015 Ben Hogan Award in the summer; voted for by the Golf Coaches Association of America and awarded in their view to the best college player in the U.S.
However, what made this year particularly special was his two top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour – tied 5th at the Waste Management and tied 10th a few weeks ago in the Mayakoba Classic. It was that first result that drove his amateur rankings standing – rightly or wrongly it earned him way more points than DeChambeau got for winning either the U.S. Amateur or the NCAA Division I title.
9. MAVERICK MCNEALY (USA)
Stanford’s Maverick McNealy had an astonishing 6 wins and 9 top 5’s in the 2014/15 US College season. He won both the Nicklaus Award (given to the top player in NCAA Division I) and the Haskins Award (given to the most outstanding U.S. collegiate golfer) as a result.
Maverick McNealy – Winner of the 2015 Haskins Award (© Haskins Award)
There seems to be no stopping him in the first half of 2015/16 too. Junior McNealy has already won three times and finished in the top 10 in the other event he has played this academic year. He is now just 2 wins behind the Stanford record of 11, held jointly by Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers.
I can see Maverick turning out to be the Matt Fitzpatrick of U.S. golf in the next few years – a baby-faced assassin. He is a player who still looks very young and has not filled out and as a result is under-estimated by nearly everyone who watches and plays against him. Just like Fitzpatrick one can see him moving seamlessly from the amateur to paid ranks in due course.
10. CHENG JIN (CHN)
Cheng Jin – 2015 Asia Pacific Amateur Champion (© APAC)
The new Guan Tianlang ? Cheng Jin is certainly the latest child prodigy to come out of China and make a global name for themselves.
He won the 2015 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship after a first round course record 62 and as a result will tee it up in the 2016 Masters Tournament.
More recently at the Thailand Golf Championships Darren Clarke described him as “the best 17 year old I’ve seen since Rory McIlroy – seriously impressed.” Cheng Jin finished the event, won by Jamie Donaldson, tied 11th.
11. EWEN FERGUSON (SCO)
Ewen, who turned 19 in July, enjoyed a fine season culminating in his selection for the GB&I Walker Cup team. Not originally in the Walker Cup squad at the start of 2015 he simply played his way on to the roster by being one of GB&I’s most consistent performers during the year.
He started off with a string of good finishes on Scottish Golf’s early season tour of South Africa before returning home to win the Scottish Champion of Champions and Craigmillar Park Open events.
He followed that up with a tied 3rd at the Irish Amateur Open, a tied 4th at the Scottish Open Amateur, a satisfactory Amateur Championship and a tied 11th at the Brabazon Trophy. Finally, he was also a member of the Scottish Team that won the European Amateur Team Championship in Sweden.
12. JORDAN NIEBRUGGE (USA)
Very much like Danish Pro Thorbjørn Olesen a pretty ordinary year was made special by a great week in St. Andrews. Olesen did very little all year but then won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Niebrugge did very little all year but then came through on the last day to finish tied 6th on -11 in The Open Championship – a stunningly good result in a Major for an amateur.
Jordan Niebrugge – Open Championship 2015 Silver Medal Winner (© Getty Images / The R&A)
I also think Jordan should be congratulated for coming over to Great Britain after the U.S. college season and playing our leading amateur events. He may not have got the results he was looking for – save for The Open which he also chose to and had to qualify for – but hopefully the experience will stand him in good stead for the future.
He was selected for the U.S. Walker Cup team at Royal Lytham, largely on the back of his Open result. Surprisingly he proved to be largely anonymous, losing all three of his matches comfortably.
13. BEN TAYLOR (ENG)
Ben deserves recognition for his contribution to Louisiana State University’s (LSU) 2015 NCAA Division I victory in June. Ben, ending his college career at the Championship, sunk the winning 8-foot putt in the final match against the University of South Carolina. He was conceded the winning putt in LSU’s semi-final match against Georgia too after hitting a 6-iron close. It was LSU’s first national title since 1955.
Ben Taylor – Louisiana State University, 2015 NCAA Div. I Champions (© LSU Men’s Golf Team)
This was Ben’s second National Title. He won the 2012 Division II Championship with Nova Southeastern as a freshman – earning himself the Nicklaus Award for Div. II Player of the Year in the process – before transferring up a league to LSU.
Unfortunately he wasn’t able to deliver the results back home in the summer, both individually and for England, that were necessary to secure a place on the GB&I Walker cup team – but he must have been close. He did finish tied 7th in both the Amateur Championship Stroke Play Qualifier and the Brabazon Trophy. He secured an impressive quarter final win over Cormac Sharvin at the European Team’s but followed it with a disappointing late loss to Greig Marchbank in the semi’s that let in Scotland. He also qualified for The Open Championship but unlike many of his amateur peers failed to really get going at St. Andrews.
14. PHILIP BARBAREE (USA)
For me amateur golf is all about winning tournaments and championships. Philip Barbaree won the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur in such style he simply had to be included in my 2015 list. The victory assisted him in becoming the world’s undisputed No. 1 Junior in 2015 – well at least in the eyes of our American friends.
In the 36 hole final at Collation River Plantation Club, South Carolina, Barbaree found himself 5 down with 8 holes to play against Andrew Orischak. Watching his comeback (and sadly Orischak’s collapse) – he won on the 37th hole after being one down on the 18th second time around – was amongst the most exciting and interesting golf I saw on TV all year.
Barbaree also won the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Rolex Tournament of Champions by a record 14-shots and finished tied 6th at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, the event won by Marcus Kinhult.
15. BRADLEY MOORE (ENG)
As the unofficial chairman of the Bradley Moore Fan Club it would be remiss of me not to include him in my 2015 list.
The highlight of another very solid year was his victory in the Carris Trophy, the English Boys’ U18 Open Amateur Stroke Play, at Little Aston.
Bradley Moore – Winner of the 2015 U18 Carris Trophy (© Leaderboard Photography)
In addition to many other good junior performances 2015 also saw Bradley step up to the Men’s circuit; his 8th place in the Lytham Trophy, progress in the Amateur Championship and tied 23rd in the European Amateur all bode well.
He was selected as second reserve for the GB&I Walker Cup Team in August. Having chosen not to go down the U.S. College route it will be interesting to see just how long he stays amateur.
Copyright © 2015, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.