- Alistair Tait
Who will follow in Faldo's footsteps
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Will the winners of the respective men’s and women’s English Amateur Championships taking place this week at Woodhall Spa go on to emulate the careers of Nick Faldo and Bronte Law, or will they fade into relative obscurity like so many other former winners of these championships?
Faldo is the most accomplished of former English Amateur champions. He won in 1975 and went on to win six majors. His name on the trophy sits beside other excellent winners of England’s national golf championship. A plethora of European Tour winners have gone from being the pride of England to European Tour victories. Tour winners include Mark James (1974), Roger Chapman (1979), Andrew Oldcorn (1982), David Gilford (1984), Russell Claydon (1988), Steve Richardson (1989), Mark Foster (1994-1995), Paul Casey (1999-2000), Richard Finch (2002), Paul Waring (2005), Danny Willett (2007) and Tommy Fleetwood (2010).
Yet for every Fleetwood there’s an Ian Garbutt (1990), Scott Godfrey (2001), Gary Lockerbie (2003, James Heath (2004) and Ross McGowan (2006) who won the championship yet never made their mark on the European Tour.
Bronte Law won back to back English Women's Amateur titles in 2014-15. She joins LET winners such as Rebecca Hudson (2001), Trish Johnson (1985) and Micky Walker (1973). Those are the names from the roll call of winners who stand out. As with the men’s game, there are many past winners who didn't make it professionally. For example, 2011 champion Lucy Williams is now a school teacher. She spent a few seasons trying to play the Ladies European Tour before throwing in the towel. There weren’t enough tournaments to warrant even trying to make a living. Kelly Tidy won a year later, and then helped Great Britain & Ireland win the Curtis Cup at Nairn. She’s now works for Golf Breaks as a tournament and events executive.
I’ve been fascinated my entire career by players who win big amateur tournaments yet fail to make the grade in the professional ranks. What is it that stops top flight amateurs from making it in the professional ranks? What happens between leaving the unpaid ranks and entering the bad old world of professional golf?
A look down the leaderboard at this week’s men’s championship is living proof success in amateur golf is no guarantee of professional success. Warren Bladon never made the match play stages at Woodhall Spa. The Kenilworth Golf Club member shot rounds of 76 and 74. Bladon never won the English Amateur. He went one better. He won the 1996 Amateur Championship at Turnberry. He’s one of three players to win the championship after finishing leading qualifier or joint leading qualifier. (Bladon and Jody Fanagan topped the 36-hole stroke play qualifying in 1996.)
Bladon never made it on the European Tour. He’s 54 now, his halcyon days long behind him. The same can’t be said for 2019 English Amateur champion Conor Gough.
Gough was on top of the world last year. Becoming English Amateur champion at the age of 16 helped him reach number two on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He played in the European Tour’s Betfred British Masters before making a Walker Cup appearance, where he earned two points out of four. No wonder he entered this year’s championship as one of the players to beat. He was confident of repeat success, even daring to talk about becoming the first player since Casey to win back-to-back titles. He said:
“History shows that it’s not impossible to defend and that’s my aim. It’s actually a little bit surprising to see how many people have won it two years in a row because it’s such a tough event."
Gough found it particularly tough after an opening 87. There was no coming back from that. He didn’t. He added a 74 to finish T192 out of the 222-man field.
Thankfully Gough has many years ahead of him. He has a ready-made route through the American college golf system if he chooses. It might be his better option than a quick jump straight into the paid ranks.
Saturday will see a new women’s champion crowned, while Sunday determine who joins Faldo and company as men’s winner. (You can follow the results here.) Both will wallow in well-deserved plaudits, but who knows what their future holds. It could be Solheim Cup glory as per Walker, Johnson and Law. Maybe European Tour victories or even major success as per Faldo and Willett.
Or both could flatter to deceive and never find success on the fairways again.
Isn’t golf a great game?
#JustSaying: “The streets of Chicago are full of first round leaders.” Peter Jacobsen