The Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur at the Open Championship is one of the most coveted prizes in the amateur game, and this year there are nine contenders

The Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur at the Open Championship is one of the most coveted prizes in the amateur game.

Since it was first played for in 1949, only two of the 42 players to win it have gone on to later capture the Open Championship itself.

Who were those two we here you cry? They would be Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

It’s not difficult then to see why it’s so highly prized. Asides from the Nike duo, three others have also gone on to become major champions across the pond, and they are Hal Sutton, Jose Maria Olazabal and Justin Rose.

So who out of this year’s crop of amateurs could follow in the footsteps of Woods at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1996 and McIlroy at in 2007 at Carnoustie and win the Silver Medal at St Andrews?

Here we examine the runners and riders…

Alister Balcombe – Final Qualifying at Royal Cinque Ports

This Englishman represents the fairy story qualifying was made for. The plus-three hanicapper from Clevedon Golf Club shot a three-under-par 69 at Remedy Oak in Dorset to advance from Regional Qualifying to Final Qualifying at Royal Cinque Ports, where he shot rounds of 67 and 70 for a five-under-par total that gave him joint top spot.

Balcombe has just completed his first year at Iowa Western Community College and is a member of the Somerset county team. He was runner-up in this year’s Welsh Youths Championship and the Southwestern Counties Strokeplay.

Ashley Chesters – European Amateur Champion 2014

Ashley Chesters defended the his European Amateur Championship title at the Duke’s Course in St Andrews last August to earn himself an instant return to The Open. That means the Hawkstone Park member joins Tiger Woods and Edoardo Molinari as the only other amateurs to have qualified for back-to-back Opens in the last 20 years.

He’ll be looking to improve on his performance last year at Royal Liverpool, when he shot an opening two-under-par 70, but then missed the cut by a single stroke.

Ashley Chesters

Ashley Chesters during the first round of The Open at Royal Liverpool

Paul Dunne – Final Qualifying at Woburn

The Irishman came through Final Qualifying in style at Woburn, with back-to-back rounds of 67 giving him a three-stroke victory over Oliver Fisher.

Dunne is currently studying at the University of Alabama and is fresh from a Palmer Cup victory over America with Europe’s top college players. In 2009 he became the first player to make a successful defence of the Irish Boys title and captained Britain and Ireland’s boys to victory over Continental Europe.

Paul Dunne

Paul Dunne during a practice round prior to the 2014 Open

Paul Kinnear – Final Qualifying Gailes Links

Paul Kinnear shed tears of joy at Gailes Links after making a birdie on the first hole of a three-man play-off for two spots at St Andrews. A week earlier the Liverpool amateur shot a one-over-par 73 in the Regional Qualifier at West Lancashire, but that was good enough not just to put him through to the next stage, but also to give him first place.

Kinnear played central midfield for Tranmere Rovers’ youths team for eight years, but golf then became his main focus and two seasons ago he won the Faldo Series UK Championship and then its Grand Final in America. That led to him being invited to compete in the European Tour’s Madeira Islands Open last season, although fog meant he only played one round.

Romain Langasque – Amateur Champion 2015

The French connection with Carnoustie continued last month when Romain Langasque went one better than compatriot Jean Van de Velde to become Amateur champion over the Scottish links. The 20-year-old beat home hope Grant Forrest in the 36-hole final to earn himself not just a place at St Andrews, but also the chance to play next year’s Masters and US Open.

The only two previous French winners of the championship in its 120-year history are Philippe Ploujoux in 1981 and Julien Guerrier in 2006.

Romain Langasque lines up during the Amateur Championship at Carnoustie

Romain Langasque lines up during the Amateur Championship at Carnoustie

Jordan Niebrugge – Final Qualifying at Hillside

Jordan Niebrugge was ranked 86th in the world amateur rankings when he tied for first place with professionals Scott Arnold and Pelle Edberg in the 36-hole Final Qualifying event at Hillside, and will be making his Open Championship debut.

It’s not his first major though, as the 6ft 4in plus-four handicapper played in last year’s Masters after winning the US Public Links title during a 2013 season in which he also captured the Western Amateur and helped America regain the Walker Cup with wins in both his singles matches.

Oliver Schniederjans – Number one ranked amateur for 2014

The American earned himself trips to The Open and US Open by claiming the McCormack Medal presented to the number one ranked amateur in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

The Georgia Tech student reached top spot when Patrick Rodgers and Matthew Fitzpatrick turned professional last June.

Schniederjans was runner-up at last year’s American College Championship and in his first appearance on the Web.com Tour came T5 after an opening 64 and closing 67. Schniederjans also top-scored by winning three of his four games in the annual Palmer Cup college match, staged last year at Walton Heath.

Ben Taylor – Final Qualifying at Royal Cinque Ports

Ben Taylor is another amateur who has gone all the way, after surviving Regional Qualifying at Hankley Common with nothing to spare. Rounds of 70 and 67 meant he finished joint first in the Final Qualifying event at Royal Cinque Ports, courtesy of  birdies at three of his last seven holes.

The Walton Heath member plays off a plus-five handicap, won the Daily Telegraph Junior title in 2010 and has been in the England elite squad for the last four years, with his sights now set on the Walker Cup later this year at Royal Lytham and St Annes.

Gunn Yang – US Amateur Champion for 2014

The 21-year-old was ranked 776th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings when he became the shock winner of the US Amateur Championship last August, five years after Byeong-hun An was the first South Korean to lift the trophy. With it Yang earned invitations to The Open, the US Open and The Masters.

Yang attended Torrey Pines High School in San Diego growing up, and underwent spinal surgery in May 2013 to fix a herniated disc, which has obviously since payed off big time.

Gunn Yang

Gunn Yang of Korea in action at Chambers Bay