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Sunningdale Foursomes Boast Singular Stature

by Colin Callander - March 20, 2017

SUNNINGDALE, ENGLAND | Walk into the Critchley Room in Sunningdale’s elegant clubhouse and one of the first things you see are two large honours boards listing all the winners of the club’s annual foursomes tournament.

At first sight, these boards look no different to others found on the walls of many clubhouses, but take a closer look and you start to see this tournament, inaugurated just months before The Masters in 1934, is very special indeed.

The first clue that the Sunningdale Foursomes is no ordinary tournament can be found when you begin to scroll down the list of the past winners and spot names like Joyce Wethered, Alf Padgham, Max Faulkner, Brian Huggett, Michael Bonallack, Peter Alliss, Neil Coles, Peter Oosterhuis, Mary McKenna, Dale Reid, Sam Torrance, Ross Fisher and Luke Donald.

That’s an impressive list by any standards. The tournament is also unique in that it features amateurs and professionals of both sexes who play under a special set of rules which stipulate all competitors play off the same tees and are allocated a handicap in accordance with their sex and status.

Under these rules, male professional golfers play off plus-1, male amateurs play off scratch, lady professionals play off 2 and lady amateurs play off 4. It is a system which occasionally causes contention but which, in the words of one senior tournament official, “seems to work reasonably well.” Certainly, there appears no desire to change it. Nor should they, given the calibre of winners it has produced.

“These boards tell quite a story,” said Sunningdale stalwart Michael King, who won the event alongside local member John Davies in 1972 and is one of literally dozens of Sunningdale Foursomes regulars who through the years have won national championships and/or played in team events like the Walker, Curtis and Ryder cups.

“The (Sunningdale) Foursomes have always been popular. In the old days, all the top players played and it still attracts very good fields, despite the fact nowadays the top players are playing here, there and everywhere.

“It’s great to see Sandy (Lyle) and Paul (Lawrie) here this year and Tommy Fleetwood was also in the field before his great start to the season got him an invite into the Arnold Palmer (Invitational) tournament.

“Everybody seems to like it and most come back year after year,” he added. “It’s a bit different and it certain helps that the (Old and New) golf courses are sensational and that you get a bash at both of them plus the practice rounds for (an entry fee of) £190 a pair.”

Lyle’s name is not on the honours boards but therein lies a tale he was keen to recount ahead of playing in this year’s event with Global Golf Post’s own James Bunch.

“Back in 1975, when I was 17, Martin Poxon and I reached the final only to see it abandoned because of overnight snow,” Lyle said. “We might not have beaten our (veteran professional) opponents, Lionel Platts and Hedley Musgrove, but it’s a shame we didn’t get a chance.”

This year, Lyle and Bunch lost, 2 and 1, in the third round to the mixed pair of past Walker Cup player Jack Senior and Royal Lytham & St Annes amateur Bethany Garton, but both have vowed to try again.

Lawrie, partnered by his eldest son, Craig, and with younger son, Michael, on his bag, lasted one round longer before having to give 10 shots to the all-female pair of Swedish international Linn Grant and her English partner, Martha Lewis. Nevertheless, the 1999 Open champion confirmed his debut in the event had lived up to all expectations.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to play in,” said the Scot. “I’ve loved it. The courses are so good and it’s been great fun to play with Craig and to have Michael here as well. I really enjoyed the week.”

“Foursomes are fun,” he added. “Monty (Colin Montgomerie) gave me some good advice when I played foursomes with him in the ’99 Ryder Cup and Craig and I used it this week. ‘You do your own thing and I’ll do mine,’ he said, and he’s right. If you meddle with me, and I meddle with you, it just makes things confusing.”

The last European Tour member left standing this year was past Spanish Open champion James Morrison, who together with amateur friend Duncan Hodgson reached the semi-finals before bowing, 5 and 4, to PGA pros Ryan Harrison and James Johnston.

However, in the end, the Banstead Downs pair of professional Henry Smart and reinstated amateur Graham Powell prevailed, beating Harrison and Johnston by 5 and 4 in the final. They may not have the profile of some previous winners but they did reach the last four in 2016 and clearly understood the magnitude of what they had achieved.

“I don’t know if it has quite sunk in yet,” said Smart, who spent three years working as a coach at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. “But it’s great to know we’re in such good company.”

“It’s a massive honour,” added Powell. “There’s not much more you can say.”

Australia’s Curtis Luck has become the latest player to ascend to the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

The 20-year-old overhauled America’s Maverick McNealy, who had been No 1 for 42 consecutive weeks, after a superb 2016 season during which he won both the US and Asia-Pacific amateur championships and was part of his country’s team which claimed a runaway victory in the World Amateur Team Championship in Mexico. Luck also won the 2016 Western Australia Open and since last fall has recorded a string of solid performances in professional events, including a tie for 11th at the Emirates Australian Open.

“Since I started playing really seriously when I was 14 or 15, that has been my goal,” Luck admitted. “So, for five years, I’ve been trying to reach that No 1 spot.

“I haven’t been checking (the rankings) lately so didn’t know it was getting so close, so to wake up this morning and see it had ticked over was pretty cool. It’s great. I wouldn’t classify it as a confidence boost, it’s more just gratifying to be in that position as No 1 amateur in the world.”

Luck becomes the 30th golfer to hold down the No. 1 spot on the ranking. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay was the first, on the back of his victory in the 2006 US Amateur, and he was followed, in order, by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, England’s Jamie Moul, Americans Jamie Lovemark, Rickie Fowler and Colt Knost, England’s Danny Willett, America’s Michael Thompson, New Zealand’s Danny Lee, Australia’s Scott Arnold, America’s Morgan Hoffmann, Canada’s Nick Taylor, France’s Victor Dubuisson, Italy’s Matteo Manassero, America’s Peter Uihlein, South Korea’s Jin Jeong, Americans David Chung, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Chris Williams, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Australia’s Brady Watt, Taiwan’s Cheng-Tsung Pan, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, Americans Cory Whitsett, Patrick Rodgers and Oliver Schniederjans, Spain’s Jon Rahm and McNealy.

Luck’s reign is likely to be shorter than the previous incumbent’s because he is widely expected to forgo exempt spots in the US Open and Open Championship and turn professional straight after his appearance in The Masters next month.

Hannes Rönneblad’s victory at the recent Bandon Dunes Championship has helped the Swedish player top the list of automatic qualifiers for the European team at this year’s Arnold Palmer Cup in Atlanta.

The Texas Tech stalwart will represent Europe alongside fellow Swede and college team-mate Fredrik Niléhn, Norway’s Kristoffer Ventura (Oklahoma State), English duo David Wicks (Jacksonville) and Harry Ellis (Florida State) and Scotland’s Rory Franssen (Missouri), who also all secured automatic places on the team.

The rest of the European team will be made up of Ireland’s Stuart Grehan (Maynooth), and Norway’s Viktor Hovland (Oklahoma State), who were committee selections, plus Englishman Richard Mansell (Nova Southeastern), who was a coach’s pick after making a late charge for a place by claiming a six-shot victory in the Armstrong Pirate Men’s Invite at the Savannah Quarters Country Club and then followed that up with a second-place finish at the Southeastern Collegiate at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club.
Grehan is the only returning member of the team that beat their American rivals last year at Formby.

The 10th place on the European team will go to the winner of the R&A Foundation Scholars tournament, to be played at St Andrews at the start of next month.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the Arnold Palmer Cup and have the opportunity to represent Europe,” said Ellis, who in 2012 became the youngest winner of the English Amateur Championship when he claimed the title at Silloth-on-Solway at 16. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort to get my game to the level that allows me to be part of these special events.”

Missouri head coach Mark Leroux paid tribute to 18-year-old Franssen, a freshman from Inverness, for the hard work he had put in to become the first player from his university to play in the transatlantic collegiate contest. “It certainly means a lot for Rory to receive this honour, as he is someone who really works at his game and deserves the recognition,” he said.

The Europeans will face a formidable American team headed by former world No. 1 McNealy (Stanford), who earned an automatic place alongside Sam Burns (LSU), Chandler Phillips (Texas A&M), Collin Morikawa (California), Jimmy Stanger (Virginia) and Norman Xiong (Oregon). John Coultas (Florida Southern), Sean Crocker (Southern California) and Nick Hardy (Illinois) were the designated committee selections while Doug Ghim (Texas) was the coach’s pick. McNealy represented the USA in 2015 and also was named on last year’s team but withdrew, his place going to Ghim.

This year’s contest is to be played on 9-11 June at the Atlanta Athletic Club. The European team is to be led by coach David Inglis from Scotland, a former Walker Cup player and a member of the European team in the inaugural Palmer Cup in 2003. He becomes the first Palmer Cup player to go on to be a head coach in the match.

“(They) are going to remember (this event) for the rest of their lives,” said Inglis, head coach at Northwestern University near Chicago.

America’s Crocker celebrated his call-up to his country’s Arnold Palmer Cup team by crossing the Atlantic and completing a wire-to-wire victory in the Italian International Amateur Championship at Acaya Golf Resort.

The University of Southern California junior opened with a 3-under-par 68 to share the lead with France’s Victor Veyret and Spain’s Jorge Maicas, then took control with a 69 before closing with two 70s to cruise to a five-shot victory on 7-under 277.

Crocker’s nearest rival was Morocco’s Ayoub Id Omar, who closed with level-par 71 which was enough for him to finish one shot ahead of Austria’s Markus Maukner and two in front of Finland’s Sami Välimäki. Defending champion Veyret closed with his second 68 of the championship to finish in fifth place on 1-over 285, while Morocco’s Ayoub Lguirati was sixth on 286 and England’s David Hague shared seventh with Maicas and French duo Dimitri Mary and Pierre Pineau, one shot further behind.

The concurrent Italian International Women’s Championship staged at the Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa in Ragusa was a much tighter contest. Holland’s Romy Meekers shot 75, 73, 72 and 71 and then beat compatriot Zhen Bontan in a sudden-death playoff. Germany’s Celina Rosa Sattelkau, Denmark’s Karen Fredgaard and Italy’s Alessandra Fanali and Letizia Bagnoli all shared third place.

Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free


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