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  • Alistair Tait

Lytham Trophy big miss for amateur golf

The world of golf is currently lamenting the loss of major championships and important tournaments. That loss is also felt in amateur golf, especially the cancellation of a great championship that should have concluded today.

The Lytham Trophy.

If there’s any consolation to losing this year’s Lytham Trophy, it’s that the tournament’s first missed year since 1965 comes in a non-Walker Cup year. The Lytham Trophy is always an early barometer of which Great Britain & Ireland players are in form ahead of the match against the United States. Walker Cup selectors are always out in full force.

The tournament played around the 11-time Open Championship venue is arguably the number one stroke play event in British, perhaps European, amateur golf. It certainly constitutes one of British golf’s four amateur majors along with the Amateur Championship, the Brabazon Trophy and St Andrews Links Trophy.

I was due to attend this year’s Lytham Trophy after a hiatus of four years. I covered the Lytham Trophy for 10 consecutive years from 2002, back in the day when the magazine I formerly worked for really cared about amateur golf. I argued every year for it to be included on my schedule, usually to no avail except 2016 when for some reason they acquiesced. Alfie Plant – remember him? – won that year and then went on to win the silver medal in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and make the 2017 Walker Cup team.

At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I was one of several journalists who covered The Lytham back in the day when amateur golf actually got some decent coverage. Some years, five or six of us covered the championship, fighting for space in what the club laughingly called a press room, the minuscule TV lounge in the dormie house.

The Lytham served as an early season chance to see who was in form, especially in Walker Cup years. It also gave us a chance to identify future European Tour stars, and strike up relationships with said potential stars. Practically every elite amateur in the United Kingdom and Ireland tees it up in the Lytham, alongside great players from Continental Europe.

There are some great names on the Lytham Trophy. Sir Michael Bonallack kicked things off by winning the inaugural 1965 championship. He won it again seven years later. Scotland’s Charlie Green is a two-time winner. Peter McEvoy, Paul Broadhurst, Gary Evans and Stephen Gallagher are past winners. Evans won it twice in consecutive years, 1990-91.

For me, The Lytham just pips the Brabazon and the St Andrews Links as Britain’s premier amateur stroke play event because it’s the first major amateur tournament of the year, and played on probably the most underrated Open Championship venue.

Lytham doesn’t really get the credit it deserves because its surrounded by houses. It doesn’t have the rolling dunes of Royal Birkdale, Turnberry's scenery or the Old Course’s charm and history. However, it’s a belter of links.

The saying at Lytham used to be make your score on the way out and hang on to it on the way in. That changed when Lytham and the R&A updated the course. It’s not so easy now to make a score over the opening holes.

Hopefully this great championship returns next year, because its produced some great stories over the years. Here’s a wee selection of Lytham Trophy highlights.

2004 James Heath smashes records

I thought I’d seen a future major winner when I watched James Heath win The Lytham. The term “he had it on a string” has never been more apropos. The Englishman smashed the 72-hole record by 10 shots, compiling an 18-under 266 with rounds of 67, 68, 66 and 65. His 18 under total was five shots better than Tom Lehman’s 1996 winning Open tally. Heath beat Ross Fisher by eight shots. I’d have laughed in your face if you’d told me then Fisher would go on to win five European Tour titles and Heath would eventually quit the game to go into player management. That’s exactly what happened. I talked to Heath at last year’s Walker Cup. He was working for Wasserman Sports Management. I thought he’d have won a string of European Tour events by now.

2007 Lloyd Saltman pips Rory McIlroy

Saltman is another former Lytham Trophy winner who hasn’t lived up to expectations. Saltman’s victory was his third consecutive win that year and ensured he’d make that year’s Walker Cup team, his second consecutive appearance, along with McIlroy. The Northern Irishman wound up runner-up for the second straight year. “It’s no shame losing to Lloyd because he’s such a great player,” McIlroy said. Back then it looked like these two would be pushing each other for major honours for the rest of their careers. Yet while McIlroy’s won four of them, Saltman hasn’t even managed to secure a foothold on the European Tour. Like Heath, he somehow didn’t make the most of his talent.

2011 Jack Senior wins in a howling gale

You had to be at the 2011 Lytham Trophy to experience the conditions. In a word, they were “brutal.” Senior scored 82 in the second round and still won. “I couldn’t believe I had an 82 and was still in contention,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever shoot 82 again and be in contention. I’ve never played in tougher conditions than the second round.” The Lytham championship committee moved the tee up 30 yards at the par-4 second hole in round two, but carrying the fairways bunkers 225 yards off the tee was impossible. Players were aiming left of the bunker because they couldn’t carry the bunkers into the wind. Senior’s 299 total was the highest four-round winning tally since Stephen McAllister recorded that score in 1983.

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