- Alistair Tait
The Amateur Championship curse
Nick Dougherty and Stephen Gallacher share a common goal. No, not the fact they’re both European Tour winners.
They’ve both suffered the Amateur Championship curse.
Both players have finished top seed in 36-hole Amateur Championship qualifying only to lose their opening match. They’re not alone; they have plenty of company.
Today should’ve been the day that decided who would play in the Amateur Championship’s match rounds over Royal Birkdale, after 36 holes of qualifying at West Lancs (pictured) and Royal Birkdale.
The game’s premier amateur tournament was scheduled for this week but has been postponed until August. Those lucky enough to make the field of 288 if the championship goes ahead two months from now should take note: they just want to qualify among the 64 and ties who make the match play rounds; they really don’t want to finish leading qualifier.
The number one seed might enjoy seeing his name atop the leaderboard, but he’s probably not going to win the championship. In fact, he’s almost guaranteed a quick exit.
Only three players have led the qualifying after 36 holes and gone on to win the championship in the 36 years since qualifying was introduced. Welshman Philip Parkin did it at Turnberry in 1983, the year 36-hole qualifying began. He went on to defeat American Jim Holtgrieve 5&4 in the final.
Parkin was leading qualifier the following year at Formby, but lost in round three. Parkin is one of two players to win qualifying twice along with Dana Banke of the United States. Like Parkin, Banke did it in consecutive years - 1985 and 1986. Banke started the curse. He lost his opening match in the 1986 championship at Royal Lytham.
In 1996, England’s Warren Bladon became the second player to top the qualifying and go on to win. He finished joint leading qualifier with Ireland’s Jody Fanagan at Turnberry and eventually defeated Scotland’s Roger Beames by one hole to lift the trophy.
Matteo Manassero won the 2009 Amateur at Formby after finishing leading qualifier. He defeated England’s Sam Hutsby 5&4 in the final to become the tournament's youngest winner at age 16.
Three players in 36 years is not a good return. It proves, yet again, that anything can happen in 18-hole match play.
Over a third – 17 players out of 45 – of those who have finished outright medallist or joint medallist have lost their opening match. Gallacher suffered that fate in 1994 at Nairn. He topped the 288-man field by four shots with a 145 total only to lose to England’s Matthew Blackey at the 20th hole in his opening match.
Dougherty suffered the curse in 2001. He set a new 36-hole qualifying total with a score of 135 after rounds of 66 and 69 at Prestwick and Barassie, taking the number one seed by three shots. He then lost on the second extra hole at Prestwick to countryman Stuart Davis.
Dougherty is included in a seven-year streak from 1999 that saw every leading qualifier lose in the opening round. Simon Dyson started that streak. He topped the field at Royal County Down and Kilkeel but lost to Belgium’s Francois Nicholas by one hole. Dyson went on to win six European Tour events while Nicholas, who went out in the next round, was never heard of again.
Richard Finch showed his future European Tour pedigree in 2002 when he topped the qualifying by five shots with a 76 at Royal Porthcawl and a 61 at Pyle & Kenfig, the lowest score ever recorded in Amateur Championship qualifying. Finch would go on to win two European Tour events, but he was no match for American Mike Plate when he teed it up in match play. Finch lost on the last at Porthcawl.
The 2015 championship at Carnoustie was carnage for the leading qualifiers. Scotland’s Craig Howie and Ryan Chisnell of New Zealand finished joint first after 36 holes only lose their opening head-to-head matches.
Denmark’s Jon Axelsen continued the trend at Portmarnock last year. He finished joint number one with England’s Thomas Plumb but was soon on a flight to Copenhagen after losing his first match. Plumb lasted a round longer.
Finishing number one out of a field of 288 players is a nice achievement to put on a CV, but it’s more like an albatross around the neck of competitors in the Amateur Championship.