Amateur Golf Taking Over the Professional Ranks
VANCOUVER, July 24, 2011— Does it seem like amateur golfers are making more of a mark on the professional tours the past few years or is it just me? If there ever was such an inkling, this weekend’s golf was a full-fledged absolute clear indication that the amateurs are better prepared than ever to challenge the pros for whatever trophy may be up for grabs in a particular town.
I can’t recall such a summer of performances on the professional stage like the one amateur sensation Patrick Cantlay is having as his great play continued with a tie for ninth at the Canadian Open. His top ten at Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club came at one of the most difficult courses the touring pros have faced in a few years. The last time there had not been recorded at least one bogey-free round in a non-major event was 2008. Sean O’Hair’s total was the second highest winning score on the PGA Tour this season. All that makes Cantlay’s top ten even that more impressive, yet that is just the tip of the iceberg for the rising sophomore from UCLA.
Prior to school letting out for summer, this All-American won the Nicklaus Award as the Division I Player of the Year, GolfWeek Player of the Year, and the Phil Mickelson Award as the Golf Coaches Association of America Freshman of the Year. They were all well-deserved when you win three events outright and tie for first in a fourth event, come in second in the NCAAs, and record six other top tens.
Then summer started:
· Low amateur at the U.S. Open with scores of 75-67-70-72--284 (E), tying for 21st place.
· Tied for 24th at the Travelers Championship with scores of 67-60-70-72 -- 269 (-11).
· Shot the lowest round (60) by an amateur in a PGA Tour event ever at the Travelers.
· Tied for 20th at the AT&T National with scores of 70-69-71-67 -- 277 (-3).
· Tied for ninth at the RBC Canadian Open with scores of 72-71-68-69--280 (E).
He made all four cuts so far on the tour and placed in the top 25 each time. Oh yeah, he also won the Southern California Golf Association Amateur and it’s not even August yet.
But Patrick Cantlay isn’t the only collegian lighting it up in the big leagues. In fact not one, but two Georgia Bulldogs have won events on the Nationwide Tour this year. Not to be outdone by old roomie Russell Henley’s victory in the Nationwide Stadion Classic, Bulldog Harris English won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on Alister Mackenzie’s Ohio State Scarlet Course this past weekend.
It hasn’t just been the past few months, either. In 2009, amateurs Shane Lowry won the Irish Open and Danny Lee won the Johnnie Walker Classic. The last amateur to win a PGA Tour event was Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open (old Tucson Open for those of us who hate the sponsor thing). That victory and Scott Verplank’s win at the 1985 Western Open seemed like isolated events. My recent memory recalls Aaron Baddeley’s rocket to stardom as an eighteen year-old when he beat Greg Norman at the 1999 Australian Open and then successfully defended his title the following season (but at that point as a professional).
So why have the amateurs become such a force in recent history? The reason has to be the increased growth in organized kids, high school, and college golf programs. America has unfairly been put in the back seat regarding developmental programs in favor of the South Koreans and Scandinavians riding shotgun when it comes to the future of world-class golf. Clearly, though, the numbers show otherwise (see Cantlay and those Bulldogs to start). The difference between our programs and those others mentioned is that those programs receive heavy government funding that does not exist here in the States.
Nonetheless, there are many organizations that have created ready-to-win golfers in environments previously only apropos to seasoned veterans. It used to be that you had to lose for a few years in order to learn how to win on the professional level. Although that is still the case for the most part, golfers are getting younger and younger yet competing more and more on a big stage.
Programs such as The First Tee and U. S. Kids Golf have them barely out of diapers when the parents don the caddie bibs and the kids start plumb-bobbing for trophies. Through to high school and college playing events every week of the year (if they so choose), by the time these pups get to the tour the knowledge of how to win is well-ingrained. The adjustment to tournament pressures isn’t there like it used to and the confidence of quickly being fat and happy allows the youngsters the freedom to go for broke more often. The dividends are paying off for some and it will be sooner than later before an Amateur wins again on the PGA Tour.
About Richard: Richard Mandell runs Richard Mandell Golf Architecture in Pinehurst, North Carolina (www.golf-architecture.com). Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).
Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008. Read more of Richard's work at Golf Today: Players, Events and Fields in the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Richard on Twitter @RichardMandell.