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  • Alistair Tait

Amateur champions need a Plan B

What do Tommy Fleetwood (above), Robert MacIntyre, Zander Lombard, Matthias Schwab, and Bradley Dredge have in common aside from losing in the final of the Amateur Championship?

They’ve all gone on to have better professional careers than the men they lost to.

The 2020 Amateur champion should have been crowned today at Royal Birkdale. One will hopefully be crowned in August (the tournament has been re-scheduled because of coronavirus). There’s a case to be made that anyone who makes the final should hope to finish runner up rather than win the prestigious trophy.

For most Amateur champions, lifting that trophy will be the pinnacle of their career. It’s usually all downhill from there. The facts don’t lie.

Between 1983, when 36-hole qualifying was introduced, and 2017 only nine of the 30 winners who turned professional went on to win on the European Tour – Jose Maria Olazabal (1984), Stephen Dodd (1989), Rolf Muntz (1990), Sergio Garcia (1998), Graeme Storm (1999), Mikko Ilonen (2000), Michael Hoey (2001), Matteo Manassero (2009) and Jin Jeong (2010). Olazabal and Garcia are the only two to win majors.

Four winners stayed in the amateur game – Garth McGimpsey (1985), Craig Watson (1997), Gary Wolstenholme (1991 & 2003) and Stuart Wilson (2004). McGimpsey and Watson have been Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup captains, while Wilson joins them next year when he leads the Great Britain & Ireland team at Seminole. Wolstenholme turned professional once he turned 50 and has three wins on the European Senior Tour.

We obviously have to cut recent champions some slack since they’ve just started their professional careers (2018 champion Jovan Rebula and last year’s winner James Sugrue have yet to turn professional). However, those that have turned pro don’t really look like world beaters at this point.

As for Fleetwood and company, it’s hard to believe they didn’t win the title considering the men they beat have struggled in the pro game.

Fleetwood lost to Reinier Saxton of The Netherlands in the 2008 championship at Turnberry. Fleetwood’s success story is well documented. He’s currently 11th on the Official World Golf Ranking, and has been as high as ninth. Saxton is 1,748th. He’s never gained a European Tour foothold. His highest world ranking is 692nd after a third-place finish in the 2016 Kazakhstan Open on the Challenge Tour.

MacIntyre lost to England’s Scott Gregory in the 2016 final at Royal Porthcawl. The Scot won last year’s European Tour rookie of the year award and is the world’s 72nd best player. He has been as high as 64th. Gregory is still trying to make it onto the European Tour. He’s plying his trade on the Challenge Tour. He’s ranked 1,649th, with a high of 1,154th in 2018. Thankfully, Gregory is just starting his career and has a chance to come good.

Ditto for Scotland’s Bradley Neil. He defeated South African Zander Lombard at Royal Portrush in 2014. Lombard, currently ranked 202nd, has gone on to reach 190th in the world and finished 59th on last year’s European Tour. Neil qualified for the 2018 European Tour via finishing inside the top 15 of the 2017 Challenge Tour money list. However, he only made 12 of 29 cuts on the main circuit and finished 192nd on the Race to Dubai. He’s back on the Challenge Tour. He's 1,007th in the world with a career high of 430th.

Schwab lost to Alan Dunbar at Royal Troon in 2012, while Stephen Dundas hammered Dredge 7&6 in the 1992 final at Carnoustie. Dredge has two European Tour wins in a successful European Tour career, while Austrian Schwab is one of the European Tour’s hottest young players.

Dunbar and Dundas belong in a “whatever happened to” section of Amateur champions along with Christian Hardin (1988), Gordon Sherry (1995), Warren Bladon (1996) Alejandro Larrazabal (2002) and Brian McElhinney (2005).

Dunbar got his amateur status back a few years ago after giving up on his dream of life on the European Tour. Dundas spent three years banging his head against a brick wall before throwing in the towel. Last heard, he was director of golf at Pestovo Golf and Yacht Club near Moscow.

Good luck to the 2020 Amateur champion. I just hope he has a plan B.

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