amateur golf
amateur golf

English Amateur Championship:
Derek Lawrenson reports on the Final of the English Amateur
Courtesy of the Electronic Telegraph


The Amateur Golf Advisor, Welsh Golfing Union, English Golf Union, The Golf Foundation, SUCH ARE the vagaries of matchplay golf, it is extremely rare for the two best players in a 128-man field to reach the final. They did, however, in the English Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham, where Paul Casey completed the successful defence of his title yesterday following a suitably classic tussle with Gary Wolstenholme.

Sympathies lay, naturally, with the 39-year-old loser, chasing the one big amateur trophy that still eludes him and particularly on the course where his father, Guy, was successful in 1956. But at 23 Casey has the game and the air of a player who can achieve all that he wants to achieve. After six rounds in six days the 36-hole final often proves an anti-climax, but this was different from the off.

At the first Casey holed from 25 feet for a birdie; not to be outdone, Wolstenholme followed him in from 15ft. So it ebbed and flowed. Standing on the 16th tee, Casey was two under par but still only one up. What happened next proved decisive, as he won all of the remaining holes before lunch. Wolstenholme would have had no problem with the 16th, which Casey birdied, but losing the 17th and 18th after his opponent drove into bunkers probably caused a sleepless night. As hard as he tried after the break he could never get back on level terms, and eventually went down by four and two.

When Golf Weekly ran a piece two months ago claiming that Australia's amateurs were light years ahead of their rivals, it was hardly surprising that Corinthian stalwart Peter McEvoy was first on the phone to disagree. Given that England had amateurs ranked number one and two in the American college system and Great Britain and Ireland held both the Walker Cup and the World Amateur Team Championship, the timing was bizarre, to say the least. There is always the temptation to believe that something far away must be more attractive. But the fact is that when it comes to potential stars England, in particular, can more than hold its own. McEvoy believes Luke Donald, who missed this event to prepare for the US Amateur, to be the second-best English golfer behind Lee Westwood. This may sound a trifle hyperbolic until one studies the professional world rankings, which show Westwood in seventh place but the next best, Jamie Spence, struggling to stay in the top hundred.

Furthermore, an indication of the standard of the top American college play came last week when Charles Howell, a player whom Donald and Casey have successfully competed alongside for two years, turned pro and promptly finished third in his first US Tour event. Not that Casey is getting carried away. "He was ready to turn pro and I need another year to work on a few things," he said.

Of more concern to the English Golf Union is that Donald, Casey and a third player McEvoy singles out as a future star, Nick Dougherty, go on to fulfil their potential. The EGU look at that damning statistic of one player in the top 99 and think of all the potential stars they have seen turn pro, only to see them metaphorically fall off a cliff. "Some of them get so disillusioned they end up not even playing the game at all," Andrew Carman, chairman of the England selectors, said. "We're trying to rectify that in two ways, by stressing their education so they will have something to fall back on if things do not work out, and trying to get them invitations into professional tournaments while they are still amateurs, so that they get some idea both of the standard and the lifestyle."

The recent conversion rate of amateur prodigy to professional star may be poor, but it will be surprising if at least one from Donald, Casey and Dougherty do not go on to make back page headlines. It was at Lytham in 1975 that Faldo first came to prominence, winning this event. Something for Casey to cling to for inspiration, therefore, although in build, rock-solid technique and hairstyle he has more of the air of a young Tony Jacklin.

Like Jacklin on occasion, he was probably too cocky at the start of the second 18 yesterday. He should have won the 19th hole to go five up, but did not. Then he lost the 22nd and 24th and now his lead was but two. Credit Wolstenholme. He may not be the most impressive stylist but he is a doughty opponent, proud of his amateur achievements, as demonstrated in his wearing both his Walker Cup cap and sleeveless sweater. He kept up the pressure. He lost the 25th but the 30th and 31st holes went his way and now he was just one adrift. Alas, he could get no closer. Over Lytham's daunting closing holes Casey's extra power proved crucial, and he claimed both the long par fours, the 32nd and 33rd.

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