Paul Dunne couldn’t get it done at St Andrews when the pressure was really on but here are 4 reasons we think an amateur Open win could one day happen again
One minute he was cruising round the Old Course in a bogey-free 66, the next he was limping round 12 shots worse.
Okay, it was the next day rather than the next minute, but when it came to the crunch, Irish amateur, Paul Dunne, froze in the headlights and was unable to get his mind and muscles to work well enough to get the job done.
Physically, in terms of technique and swing, he was more than capable, as he had proved 24 hours earlier.
But from the moment he seemed to freeze forever over his opening tee-shot, before duffing his approach and then spraying it sideways off the 2nd tee, you sensed it wasn’t to be.
Indeed, it was Jordan Niebrugge who would end up claiming the Silver Medal, but no-one can have failed to notice that not only did five amateurs make the cut, three of them finished top 12 among golf’s most seasoned and battle-hardened professionals.
The ultimate miracle of a modern-day amateur Open win didn’t happen in the end at St Andrews, but there is reason to believe that one day in the not-too-distant future someone from the unpaid ranks could claim the Claret Jug once more, and here’s why we think that is…
Strength in depth
The amateur ranks are getting stronger in depth. Dunne was ranked 81st in the World Amateur Golf Rankings heading into St Andrews, meaning there were, in theory, 80 better amateurs in the world than the man who held his own sufficiently well for three days to find himself last out in the company of play-off protagonist Louis Oosthuizen.
Professional in all but name
The amateur’s career is more like the professional’s than ever before. Full-time amateurs play as busy and packed a schedule as the professionals, and are used to the demands of travelling here there and everywhere.
Their careers also mirror the professionals more closely now in terms of coaching, fitness, the mental side of the game and much more. In many ways, they are professional in all but name… and financial implication.
No longer afraid
Amateurs are less afraid than they once were when mixing with the pros.
In Europe, we have witnessed three amateur victories on tour since 2007 – Pablo Larrazabal in the 2007 Portuguese Open, Danny Lee in the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic, and of course, Shane Lowry at a wet and windy County Louth the same year, which leads us nicely on to our final point…
Links golf – the pros play precious little of it, certainly competitively; the amateurs far more. Certainly the top amateurs in the UK and Ireland are brought up on a regular diet of links golf in often testing conditions.
Such conditions accounted for much of the field on Monday at St Andrews as players turned back into the wind on 12, and although Dunne also dropped shots down the stretch, it was probably nerves more than the conditions that accounted for his struggles.
In 2009, leading amateur Chris Wood finished 5th at Turnberry; next year Jin Jeong finished 14th at St Andrews; in 2011, Tom Lewis led after round one before finishing 30th; and this year Jordan Niebrugge finished 6th and was joined in the top 12 by Ashley Chesters and Oliver Schniederjans, both of whom broke 70 on a tough last day.
With teenage phenoms Ryo Ishikawa and Lydia Ko both winning on tour as 15-year-old amateurs in 2007 and 2012 respectively, we’re going to stick our neck out and say it will only be a matter of time before an amateur lands one of the big ones again, and that the links challenge of an Open test is the most likely arena for that to happen.
In recent years there has been talk about whether or not a senior player could one day win a Major after Greg Norman’s exploits at Birkdale in 2008, Tom Watson’s at Turnberry in 2009, plus Fred Couples’ brushes with Masters destiny in recent years.
At the Berenburg Gary Player Invitational the same day that The Open finished, Couples was overheard to say that while both were possible, he felt a modern-day amateur Major champion was the more likely of the two scenarios.
We shall see…