There might never be a better time for a male amateur to earn a spot in the Open Championship and a Masters invitation than this week’s Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale. The same goes for women amateurs looking for a place in next year’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie.
Credit to the R&A for staging both tournaments, which start today at Royal Birkdale and West Lancs Golf Clubs respectively. That the governing body has been able to put these events on amidst this coronavirus nightmare is great news. Too bad these great tournaments and superb links won’t see the best fields possible for obvious reasons.
Just 120 players play in 36-hole qualifying in the Amateur at Birkdale. Normally 288 players play both rounds. Only 13 countries are represented this year. So few it’s easy to categorise the countries and their representatives. Here goes: England 44, Scotland 17, Italy and Ireland 10 each, Switzerland and Germany 9 apiece, Denmark 8, Wales 4, Finland 3, 2 each from Norway and France, with Estonia and Iceland sending one representative.
No Swedes, Spanish, Americans, Australians, South Africans, Austrians or a plethora of other nations.
The beauty of recent Amateurs has been it's cosmopolitan nature. There were 34 flags flying at Portmarnock last year to represent the nations involved. There were 27 American competitors, the highest since 32 payed at Royal Porthcawl in 2002. Charles Osborne, this year’s U.S. Amateur runner-up, was at Portmarnock last year but failed to qualify for the knock out rounds. (The 1998 championship at Muirfield holds the record for most U.S. competitors since the Amateur went to 36-hole qualifying in 1983. There 73 competitors pledging allegiance to Old Glory.)
England’s Ben Schmidt is the highest ranked player in the field this week at 28th. He’s one of two top 50 players teeing it up at Birkdale. Compatriot Ben Jones is 30th. There are further six in the top 100. Fellow Englishman Jack Cope is the lowest ranked player at world number 3,197. That figure is misleading: Cope recently won the English Amateur after coming back from a broken arm that put him out of the game for a spell.
The women’s draw sees 90 players from just 11 countries. As is to be expected, England makes up the bulk of the field with 36 players, Scotland is second with 11, Switzerland 9, Denmark 8, Wales, Ireland and Italy 6 apiece, Germany 5 and one each from Finland, Iceland and Lithuania.
The Women’s Amateur features a stronger field than the men's competition. There are two World Amateur Golf Ranking top 10 players, with world number three Alessia Nobilio the favourite after compatriot Benedetta Moresco at ninth. Strong England international Lily May Humphries is the third highest ranked player at 13th. Germany’s Paula Schulz Hanssen is the fourth top 20 player at world number 18. There are a further five players from the top 50, and 18 top 100 players.
England’s Emily Toy (pictured) is looking to become the first player since Sweden’s Louise Stahle in 2005 to successfully defend the title she won at Royal County Down last year. The pity in the men’s draw is that Ireland’s James Sugrue can’t do the same because of travel restrictions caused by coronavirus. No player has successfully defended the Amateur Championship since Peter McEvoy in 1978.
The respective winners of the two championships deserve all the accolades and rewards that come their way. They can only beat who’s in front of them. Just a shame they won’t tee it up in more cosmopolitan fields with greater depths of talent.
#JustSaying: “I held the notion that I could make a pretty fair appraisal of the worth of an opponent simply by speaking to him on the first tee and taking a good measuring look into his eyes.” Bobby Jones
Photograph courtesy of the R&A