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A Year To Remember

by Colin Callander - December 04, 2017

Amateur golf followers in Europe had much to enjoy during the 2017 season:

 

Best Tournament

The Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s and Prince’s had a bit of everything. Two fine courses, multiple storylines, plus an amazing finish in which 21-year-old Englishman Harry Ellis came from 4 down with five to play to beat Australia’s Dylan Perry on the 38th hole. It represented an emotional moment for Ellis, who lost his mother, Tracy, to cancer the year after he won the 2012 English Amateur, but he still managed to give one of the best winner’s interviews I heard all year. It was just a shame there were only two journalists there to listen to it. A sign of the times, I suppose.

Best Round (Male)

At first glance the 2-under-par 68 Jack Singh Brar shot during the first round of the Lytham Trophy at Royal Lytham & St Annes might not seem too noteworthy. But, believe me, it was. The weather was so challenging that the CSS for the day rose to 79 and most of the field scored 80 or worse. “It was ridiculous,” admitted the Englishman, who went on to win the tournament. “There wasn’t a 68 out there, but somehow I managed to get one.” An honourable mention in this category goes to German international Hurly Long, who carded an 11-under-par 61 during the Carmel Cup at storied Pebble Beach to shave one shot off the previous record held jointly by Tom Kite and David Duval. Not bad company to share.

Best Round (Female)

Bel Wardle defied gale-force wind to claim her first national title at the English Girls’ Championship at Littlestone in Kent. The conditions were such that it was difficult to take a stance, let alone hit a ball, but that did not stop the 17-year-old English international from Prestbury from carding a third-round, 1-under-par 72 and it proved to be more than enough to clinch the title when the atrocious conditions forced officials to abandon the fourth and final round.

Fastest Finish

England’s Max Martin has clearly taken a liking to playing golf in Wales. A matter of weeks after completing a wire-to-wire victory in the Welsh Open Youths’ Championship at Prestatyn, the 19-year-old former English boys’ international from Ladbrook Park in Solihull returned to the Principality to dominate the field in the Tucker Trophy at Whitchurch and Newport. Martin’s performance was truly remarkable. He carded a 68 and a 66 to open a 10-shot lead after the opening 36 holes at Whitchurch and then moved to Newport, where he added another 68 before stretching his lead to 18 with a stunning closing round of 10-under-par 62. In this category, Yorkshireman David Hague also deserves applause for finishing 62-63 to claim a 12-shot victory at the Lagonda Trophy at Gog Magog, as does his fellow English international Josh Hilleard, who carded a closing round of 7-under-par 64 to tie Pierre Pineau at the French Amateur Championship at Chantilly and then beat the local man in a play-off.

Biggest Surprise

Many eyebrows were raised when Walker Cup hopeful Marco Penge slumped to a 94 during the windswept first round of the Lytham Trophy, but it says a great deal about him that that he elected to post his score rather than invent some imaginary injury and pull out of the tournament. Furthermore, he returned the following day to card a 74 in conditions that were almost as difficult before jetting off to caddie for girlfriend Sophie Lamb at the Irish Women’s Stroke Play Championship at Co Louth. It has been a tough year for Penge but a lot of people will be rooting for him as he sets out on his fledgling professional career.

Biggest Disappointment

I understand the lure of the professional game is strong but I do wish our leading amateurs weren’t quite so quick to make the switch. Past Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was spot on when he told current South of Ireland champion James Sugrue to learn his trade before taking a tilt at the tour. “The main thing he told me was that you need to beat everyone in Ireland before you have ambitions of turning pro and he also talked about getting into a winning habit,” Sugrue said. “He said, whether it’s a scratch cup or a US Amateur, the win is very important. It’s just really important to win a competition and get that ‘W’ whether you’re playing against your mother or Tiger Woods.” Sound advice, I would suggest.

Best Comeback

No dispute about this one. English international Sean Towndrow missed much of the 2016 season having been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer but he bounced back this year, winning the Lancashire County Championship and the Formby Hare and producing several notable performances at national level before turning professional. Great to see.

Biggest Breakthrough

Matthew Jordan started the season in the England “A” squad but ended it in the Walker Cup side after a string of fine performances including a win in the St Andrews Links Trophy, second-place finishes in the Scottish Stroke Play and the European Team Championship (stroke play), a fourth-place finish in the Irish Amateur, a fifth in the Brabazon Trophy, a sixth in the European Amateur and a seventh in the Lytham Trophy. Beat that in 2018 and that really will be big news.

Worst Luck

Craig Watson being forced to stand down as GB&I Walker Cup captain due to a serious illness within his immediate family. The shock news was announced just days before the GB&I team was due to fly to Los Angeles with Watson being replaced by Welshman Andrew Ingram, the R&A’s chairman of selectors. It was a devastating blow for all concerned, not least because the Scot had displayed excellent captaincy skills when GB&I recovered from a 0-4 defeat in the first foursomes to retain the previous year’s St Andrews Trophy against the Continent of Europe at Prince’s. Nevertheless, it seems certain he will get the chance to lead GB&I again, both at next year’s St Andrews Trophy in Finland and the Walker Cup match at Royal Liverpool in 2019.

Saddest Moment

Scottish stalwart Barrie Douglas was one of the most popular figures in amateur golf so it hit a lot of people very hard when he took ill while captaining Scotland at the European Boys’ Team Championship in Spain and later died in hospital, aged 69. Our thoughts go out to his family and to all of his many friends. He is sadly missed.

Best Player (Women)

Leona Maguire has won three consecutive Mark H McCormack Medals as the top amateur in the world and this year she was as good as ever, winning the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship and three collegiate titles before electing to put her professional career on hold in order to complete her final year at Duke University. Is it too much to hope that she hangs around long enough to represent GB&I in a fourth Curtis Cup? Let’s hope not.

Best Player (Men)

Alfie Plant was not the most consistent performer on the European amateur circuit but two big weeks give him the nod ahead of several other credible candidates. The first came when he beat Italy’s Lorenzo Scalise and Luca Cianchetti in a play-off at the European Amateur at Walton Heath and that was quickly followed by a Silver Medal-winning performance at the Open Championship. Special kudos also goes to “Alfie’s Army” who lent considerable support during both those victories. They look like they know how to enjoy a party.

Best Player (Girls)

A tough choice. Fifteen-year-old English international Lily May Humphreys lived up to her reputation as one of Europe’s most promising young players with an impressive hat trick of victories at the English Women’s Amateur, the European Young Masters and the British Girls’ Championship. However, just as impressive was 18-year-old Swede Linn Grant, who won the Ladies’ British Open Stroke Play Championship, the Helen Holm Scottish Women’s Open and the German Girls’. Maybe Humphreys has the edge, if only because of the difference in their ages.

Best Player (Boys)

Germany’s Falko Hanisch did not defend his title at the British Boys’ Championship but he did the next best thing by reaching the final before losing to Portugal’s Pedro Lencart. He also won the German Boys’ and shared first place in the 36-hole stroke-play qualifier at the European Boys’ Team Championship before securing another runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola Berlin Open. He also claimed 3 points out of 4 in the winning European team in the Jacques Léglise Trophy.

Best Team (Men)

It wasn’t the result we wanted on this side of the Atlantic but it would be churlish, not to mention downright wrong, not to give this accolade to the US team for their landslide 19-7 victory against GB&I in this year’s Walker Cup at the Los Angeles Country Club. Time will tell whether this was one of the strongest US teams of all time, but the manner in which they put the visitors to the sword was mightily impressive. Nearer to home, kudos also goes to Ireland for winning the Men’s Home Internationals for a fourth consecutive year, and to Wales for an unexpected, but thoroughly deserved victory in the European Nations Cup in Spain.

Best Team (Women)

Europe extended its domination of GB&I when it won the Vagliano Trophy for a sixth consecutive time in Italy. Elsewhere, England deserve credit for defending the title at the European Women’s Team Championship in Portugal, beating the Italians in the final. No mean feat that, given the strength of Continental women’s amateur golf right now.

Best Team (Boys)

The Continent of Europe produced an impressive late charge to beat GB&I in the Jacques Léglise Trophy at Ballybunion. Just one point separated the two teams heading into the final singles series before the Continentals ran out a comfortable 15½-9½ winner with a 7-2 victory on the last afternoon. Their MVP was the 2017 British Boys’ champion, Portugal’s Lencart, who beat European captain Mark Power, 5 and 4, in the top singles to end the event undefeated with 3½ points out of 4.

Best Team (Girls)

Sweden produced a dominant performance to win the European Girls’ Team Championship at the St Laurence Golf Club in Finland. A highly talented squad comprising Grant, Julia Engström, Frida Kinhult, Amanda Linnér, Maja Stark and Beatrice Wallin claimed a nine-shot victory in the 36-hole stroke-play qualifier and then beat Germany, 4-3, and France, 5½-1½, before replicating the latter scoreline against Italy in the final. All six Swedes were later named in the European team for the Ping Junior Solheim Cup at Des Moines, Iowa.


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