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  • Alistair Tait

Amateurs take U.S. Open centre stage


Johnny Goodman is the subject of a good golf trivia question. As in, who’s the last amateur to win a major? Many suggest Bobby Jones as the answer, but Goodman won the 1933 U.S. Open Championship three years after Jones retired.


Of course, Goodman wasn't the last amateur to win a major. Catherine Lacoste was. The French player won the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open at the Cascades Course of The Homestead, in Hot Springs, Virginia. At 22, she became the tournament’s then youngest winner. She is still the only woman to win one of the blue-chip tournaments compared to seven men who’ve earned major titles. (Goodman, Jones, John Ball Jr, Harold Hilton, Francis Ouimet, Jerome Travers and Chick Evans.)


Fifty three years later and we’re still waiting for another amateur to join the major club. Could this be the year that happens?


Wait, I hear you say, that’s impossible: the major season finished with the conclusion of the Masters. Not quite, we still have a U.S. Women’s Open to decide December 10-13 at the Champions Club in Houston Texas. Twenty four amateurs are included in the 156-player field. Ireland’s Olivia Mehaffey (above) makes her second appearance in America’s national championship. The Arizona State player missed the cut in 2018 on her U.S. Women’s Open debut.


The chances of an amateur winning a major championship are growing stronger with each passing year down to the sheer professionalism of the amateur game. True, it would take a special individual of the nature of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Lydia Ko, Inbee Park or even a Rose Zhang, the number one player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, to pull off the feat. However, I still believe it will happen in my lifetime.


Zhang, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, spearheads the amateur challenge in Texas. She was in contention after 54 holes of the ANA inspiration. She finished 11th to take low amateur honours. Who’s to say the 17 year old can’t go 10 spots better in the U.S. Women’s Open and do what Lacoste did all those years ago?


Lacoste’s victory belongs to a different era, an age when amateurs lived up to their name. The French player was fortunate to come from a rich family – her father was the famous French tennis player René Lacoste who would go on to create the eponymous clothing company – who could afford to send her to tournaments like the U.S. Women’s Open.


Lacoste travelled to Virginia on her own. (That would be unheard of these days since even amateur stars seem to come with a backroom team.) She made herself unpopular with her French teammates since they were competing in the European Team Championships.


The French star played well over the first two rounds to take a five-shot lead into the last 36 holes. Rather than falter as many expected her to do, she prevailed by two shots in what is one of the greatest feats in golf, one not totally recognised in this male dominated game.


In an interview a few years ago with Jane Filing, Lacoste said:

“I think that they were surprised to see an amateur win even though I had won the World Championship three years before and had finished 14th, two years before that. For them, it was important to have an Open Champion from the U.S. to play in their other tournaments in order to attract more fans and sponsors. My victory probably hurt them.”

“Surprised” because there was a huge gap between amateurs and professionals in Lacoste’s day. Not now. Today’s players are more like semi-pros than out and out amateurs. That’s why there’s such a fine line in both the women’s and men’s amateur game. Whether that line will be crossed in the U.S. Women’s Open remains to be seen. Don’t be surprised if it is.


#JustSaying: “If I didn’t have these (breasts) I’d hit it twenty yards further.” Babe Zaharias


Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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4 Comments


Robopz
Robopz
Nov 19, 2020

Well... I'll say this much... Anymore, these amateur "kids", especially the young women, come into pro events NOT just to show up, but believing they can win. And that's half the battle right there... So they got THAT going for 'em!


Warmest Regards.

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Robopz
Robopz
Nov 19, 2020

Well... I'll say this much... Anymore, these amateur "kids", especially the young women, come into pro events NOT just to show up, but believing they can win. And that's half the battle right there... So they got THAT going for 'em!


Warmest Regards.

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ajt
Nov 19, 2020

Dave:


I had an inkling you might respond..... Ko, Henderson won pro events as amateurs. I don't have numbers to hand, but it's more prevalent in the women's than the men's game right now. I just think these kids are so precocious that I can see it happening. As I said in my piece, though, it will take a special talent. As Lacoste obviously was at her age. And if it can happen in 1967......


Hope you're well and staying safe.


Alistair

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Robopz
Robopz
Nov 18, 2020

Never say never, but I would still be very surprised to see an amateur prevail in either a men's or women's major.


It seems to pathway to the pros for young amateurs, both on the men's and women's side, are just two enticing for amateurs to stay amateur long enough to have enough chances to win a major.


But I hope you are right and I am wrong. An amateur winning a major would be great for golf IMO.... So if an amateur talented enough to win a major is really out there... Bring 'em on... With the disruptions in pro women's golf this year, this upcoming US Open might be the best chance they'll ever have...

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