• Alistair Tait

Amateur pedigree no basis for professional success


Golf is littered with players who were supposed to go on to future stardom in the professional game only to fizzle and burn for unknown reasons.

To paraphrase Peter Jacobsen, the streets of Chicago are full of "future superstars" with pretty swings who never made it.

Today should’ve been the day a new Amateur champion was making plans for a big future in golf after winning yesterday’s 36-hole final. (The Amateur Championship has been rescheduled for August 25-30 at Royal Birkdale and West Lancs.) As I noted yesterday, lifting that storied trophy and the Open Championship and Masters and invitations that go with it is the height of their careers. They just don’t know it at the time.

Not just Amateur champions. There are legions of players who looked like world beaters in the amateur golf who crashed and burned once every stroke they recorded could be measured in pounds, euros or greenbacks.

Gordon Sherry is a prime example. He not only won the 1995 Amateur Championship, he then finished fourth in the Scottish Open. He played a practice round for the Open Championship a week later with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, then teed it up alongside Watson and Greg Norman in the championship. All three gushed about how the Scot was going to have a great career.

Never happened, for whatever reason. No shame there. He’s in pretty good company.

Louise Stahle was the best player in college golf when she was at Arizona State. She won consecutive Womens Amateur Championships (2004-05). She was peerless in those championships. Stahle hit her 2-iron better than most hit driver. Yet the Swede is still trying to make the LPGA.

Sherry isn’t the only Scot to crash and burn in the pro game. Not many would have dreamed Lloyd Saltman would struggle when they saw him in amateur golf. He looked like giving Rory McIlroy a run for major titles. Saltman finished joint 15th in the 2005 Open Championship at St Andrews to take the silver medal as low amateur. He won the Lytham Trophy, Brabazon Trophy and played in two Walker Cups (2005-2007). The affable Scot has made 10 trips to the European Tour Qualifying School, nine of them unsuccessful. While McIlroy is world number one, you’ll find Saltman at 2,081st.

James Heath is another affable amateur who somehow didn’t make it. He won the 2004 Lytham Trophy by eight shots over Ross Fisher. He went around Lytham in just 266 blows, 18-under, five shots better than Tom Lehman did in winning the 1996 Open Championship. Heath is now a player manager after failing to replicate his amateur success on the European Tour.

Lee Westwood is one of Europe’s best players with 25 European Tour wins to his name, numerous great performances in majors and 10 Ryder Cup appearances. Yet he was no match for Michael Welch in amateur golf.

The Shropshire native won the Carris Trophy, Boys Amateur, European Boys and World Boys Championships in 1990. Every major management company wanted Welch on their books. Welch is now a coach based at Hawkestone Park in his native Shropshire. He never made it in the pro game. In one of the game’s little ironies, Welch spent four years as lead coach at the Lee Westwood Golf School in Cheshire.

“He was definitely the man to beat at that age, and I never got close. Nobody did,” Westwood said.

Remember the Song sisters, Aree and Naree? How about Oscar Sharpe? More examples of players of whom much was expected only to fail to deliver.

The list is endless. Yet there are players who did nothing in the amateur game who have gone on to huge success in professional golf. Ian Poulter has no amateur record to speak of.

It just proves amateur pedigree is no basis for professional success.

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