Yesterday, the North East District’s juniors took on their contemporaries from Angus in a match at Banchory. My first reaction on hearing about the contest was, “What, on a Wednesday? It better not interfere with the Medal.” Then, on realising the 36-hole match had been carefully slotted in around the Medal, my concern turned into curiosity. I was interested to check out the standard of the current crop of top Scottish youngsters.
What struck me was how well they swing the club and how similar their actions are. For me, Rory McIlroy exhibits the perfect example of the modern golf swing and it’s clear these elite juniors and their respective coaches are aiming to achieve the same goals of width, power and balance. There was far less evidence of “stacking and tilting” than I’d expected. The boys I watched complete their swings looking poised and steady, despite having turned so far that the clubhead is basically pointing at the target. I couldn’t get into that position without slipping a disc.
The other thing I noticed was the level of support these youngsters clearly enjoy. Each side had an impressive entourage made up of officials, scorers, parents and coaches. Both teams had matching apparel and a look at, or in, any of their “Tour” bags proved they’re not wanting for equipment.
The backing top amateur golfers receive is greater than ever before – each of the UK’s golf unions (plus many of those across the globe) provide their elite squads with all the facilities and assistance they might require – coaching, fitness training, psychologists, equipment, etc…
In fact, when it comes to preparation, there’s very little difference between the top guys in the unpaid ranks and the pros. It means the best amateurs can seriously challenge in professional tournaments. That’s evidenced by the fact two European Tour events in 2009 have been won by amateurs (Danny Lee and Shane Lowry.) Matteo Manassero also displayed the strength of the amateur game at the Open Championship. The 16-year-old’s play was as good as anyone’s at Turnberry, it was only a lack of experience that prevented him seriously contending the title.
I follow most domestic elite amateur tournaments to cover them in the Leaderboard pages of GM. The scoring in these events is astounding. In the four-round tournaments the winning totals are regularly between -15 and -20. And it’s not just one or two outstanding amateurs who are capable of shooting those numbers, there’s a troop of them.
I think, in the next ten years, we’ll see an increasing number of young amateurs making a fast and successful transition to professional success. These kids have been trained to swing the club perfectly, to believe in their own ability and to maintain their bodies in peak physical condition. I’m afraid things are going to get even tougher for the 30-something journeyman tour pro.
It’s exciting to see such talent waiting in the wings but there is a downside to the exceptionally high standard of amateur golf. It means we rarely see success from a “real amateur” – the guy who holds down a 9-5 job but takes a week off and wins the Brabazon Trophy. The vast majority of today’s elite amateurs are full-time golfers. They’re dedicated to practising and preparing with a view to making the move into the paid ranks. They may not yet receive huge cheques for their performances but it’s the only thing actually amateur about their golf.