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Prominent Amateurs Join Pro Ranks

by Colin Callander - February 4, 2013

France’s Lionel Weber and Carlos Pigem from Spain are the latest leading European amateurs to make the switch to the professional game.

Weber and Pigem both changed codes after earning their playing privileges at the recent Asian Tour Q-School in Thailand and it is now looking increasingly likely that they will soon be joined by 2012 Amateur champion Alan Dunbar, from Northern Ireland, who has indicated he will join them in the paid ranks after his amateur swansong at this year’s Masters at Augusta National.

That would mean the Irishman will miss out on the chance to become the first player to defend The Amateur title since Peter McEvoy in 1977-78.

It would also result in Welshman Rhys Pugh being the only member of the winning 2011 GB&I Walker Cup team still eligible for this year’s match at the National Golf Links of America on September 7-8.

Weber announced he would turn professional after finishing tied sixth behind Korean-American Chan Kim, at the Q-School at Springfield Royal Country Club in Hua Hin. The reigning French Amateur Stroke Play champion concluded his first trip to Asia with rounds of 67 and 68 to share sixth place with former two-time European Tour winner Miles Tunnicliff, and then confirmed he would join the Asian Tour full time.

“It has been my dream to turn professional and join a major tour like the Asian Tour,” said the Frenchman who also finished tied 4th behind compatriot Paul Barjon, at the 2012 Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship before bowing out of the amateur game in November by helping his home club, Ormesson, win the European Men’s Club Trophy in Cyprus.

Weber indicated he had travelled to Hua Hin a month before Q-School in order to acclimatise himself to the conditions.

“That’s probably the reason I played so well,” he confirmed. “I have never been to Asia before but I have really enjoyed myself and I’m happy I will get to see more of it over the coming year.”

Pigem arrived at the Asian Tour QSchool after a successful 2012 season during which he won both the Spanish Men’s Open Amateur Championship and the Carnaria Island Amateur Championship. The Spaniard finished in a tie for 11th place at Hua Hin and will now be able to divide his time between Asia and Europe because a couple of weeks earlier he headed the qualifiers at the Alps Tour Q-School at the La Cala Resort in Spain.

Alan Dunbar plans to turn professional after The Masters

Dunbar was recently presented with the Irish Golf Writers’ “Men’s Amateur of the Year” award and it was during the ceremony at Carton House that he revealed he would turn professional straight after The Masters.

He plans to play against U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox in the traditional curtain-raiser, the annual Georgia Cup match, staged at the Golf Club of Georgia, before leaving the amateur game after playing at Augusta.

The decision to switch codes means the Irishman will forfeit his place at this year’s U.S. Open at Merion and he will also need sponsor’s invites to get starts on this year’s European Tour after dropping out at Stage 2 of last year’s Q-School.

Dunbar blames a bug he picked up ahead of last year’s World Amateur Team Championship for his poor performance at Q-School where he withdrew on 13-over-par 226 after three rounds of the Stage 2 qualifier at Lumine Golf and Beach Club.

“I got sick in Turkey and that knocked me back for two months,” he told Irish writer Brian Keogh. “I lost 5 kg over four or five days in Turkey and was lying in bed for four weeks before Stage 2 of Q-School. The first shots I hit were a couple of days before I flew to Spain and I was done after the first round. Even after that, it was two or three weeks before I was back to 100 percent.”

Subsequently, Dunbar has made two trips to Florida where he has been practising with Irish former European Tour player Eoghan O’Connell. “I have had two good weeks of practise now and I’ve never hit it as well,” he confirmed.

Scotland’s Laura Murray is another leading amateur who has succumbed to the lure of the professional game.

The 24-year-old reigning Scottish and St Andrews Links champion from Alford announced she was switching codes last week and this season plans to ply her trade on the Ladies European Tour Access Series (LETAS) and on the new Paul Lawrie Golf Centre Scottish Ladies Tour (SLOT).

Murray made the decision after discussions with Paul Lawrie, whose Foundation has backed her for several years.

“I believe this optimises my chances of gaining an LET players’ card at the next Q-School in Morocco at the end of the year,” she said. “LETAS and the PLGC Scottish Ladies Open Tour provide fantastic stepping stones to the LET and will give me experience playing alongside lady professionals.

“Sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone,” she added. “Unless you try something beyond what you’ve already mastered, you will never grow.”

England’s Callum Shinkwin and Toby Tree both got their 2013 seasons off to a tremendous start with victories in two prestigious overseas championships.

The 19-year-old Shinkwin, from Moor Park, Hertfordshire, got the ball rolling when he survived a five-month layoff, a two-stroke penalty in his final round and the recent death of his grandfather to defeat Finland’s Erik Myllymaki by a single stroke in the South American Amateur Championship at El Rincon Golf Club in Columbia. He was followed into the winner’s circle by compatriot, Tree, who defended his title at the Gauteng North Open Championship in South Africa. Nineteen-year-old Tree, from Worthing, Sussex, started the final round four shots off the lead but closed with a 1-under-par 71 to finish one shot ahead of South African trio Zander Lombard, Haydn Porteous and Jason Smith.

The wins by Shinkwin and Tree continue a fine start to the season by GB&I’s young amateurs. Elsewhere, England’s Georgia Hall and Welsh girl Chloe Williams won the individual gold and bronze medals at the Australian Youth Olympics Festival in Sydney and also teamed up with Scottish duo Ewan Scott and Bradley Neil to claim gold in the concurrent team event. Another Scot, Kelsey MacDonald, won the Jones-Doherty Match Play Championship on Florida’s Orange Blossom Tour while England’s Nathan Kimsey finished tied second behind New Zealand’s Josh Munn at the Lake Macquarie International in New South Wales.

El Rincon proved to be a successful hunting ground for the strong GB&I contingent. Welshman Jason Shuflebotham was fifth while England’s Jordon Smith was tied eighth. Brooke Henderson, the 15-year-old Canadian Girls’ champion from Smith Falls, Ontario, won the women’s title.

Tree is part of a strong English team competing at the inaugural Ten Nations Cup, to be played this week (February 6-9) at Kingswood Golf Club in South Africa.

The 19-year-old former English Under-14 and Under-16 champion will be joined by 2012 England golf boys order of merit winner Max Orrin, from North Foreland; Jamie Rutherford, an English international from Knebworth; and Josh White, from The Wisley, who has won the Berkshire Trophy for the past two years.

The English quartet will be competing against teams from Argentina, Australia, Columbia, France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa over 72 holes of stroke play with the best three scores to count each day. Wales was also scheduled to compete but has withdrawn from the event.

Ireland is to be represented at Kingswood by Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park), Richard O’Donovan (Lucan), Chris Selfridge (Moyola Park) and Reeve Whitson (Mourne), while the Scottish team comprises Ross Bell (Downield), Conor O’Neil (Pollok), Fraser McKenna (Balmore) and Adam Dunton (McDonald).

The home nation will start out as favourites with a formidable quartet comprising Haydn Porteous, Zander Lombard, Dylan Raubenheimer and Louis Taylor. Porteous, Lombard and Raubenheimer have represented their country at various events, including in the World Amateur Team Championship, the All-Africa Junior Championships, the World Junior Team Championships and several Test Matches against Scotland and France. Taylor makes his debut for his country.

The Australians should also make a strong challenge with a side comprising Geoff Drakeford, Lucas Herbert, Ryan Ruffels and Brady Watt. Drakeford won the Juan Carlos Tailhade Trophy in Argentina last December and was runner-up to Cameron Smith in the recent Australian Amateur.

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