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  • Alistair Tait

What now for the Amateur champion?

Joe Long sounds like the sort of name marketing people could do a thing or three with should the new Amateur champion go on to success in the professional game.

Will that happen or will the Englishman look back on a week at Royal Birkdale as the highlight of his accomplishments in the royal & ancient game? It’s the perennial $64,000 question.

Long is celebrating today after defeating friend Joe Harvey 4&3 in the final. Numerous doors have flown open for the 23-year-old. The member of Lansdown Golf Club in Bath receives an invitation to the 2021 Masters, and spots in next year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s and the U.S. Open.

No wonder his head was spinning after he’d lifted the trophy.

“That sounds amazing, 125th Amateur Champion has quite a nice ring to it. I was feeling nervous, we both were. My game plan was just to try and stick in the present as much as I could, forget about all the rewards and benefits that come with winning.
“Wow, when you say all the exemptions. It still hasn’t hit me. It’s going to be incredible. This is what I have worked hard for since I started playing golf. I really stuck in there and battled. I am just so chuffed with it really. "I played Royal St George’s maybe four years ago in the South East Links and I remember it being a tough track. So that is going to be a good battle, it’s just going to be awesome and I am going to enjoy the experience of playing in The Open. It’s just going to be huge.”

Will he have a huge professional career though?

I’ve lost count of the number of players who looked like world beaters in winning the Amateur only for their careers to fizzle the moment every shot came with a cash value. Gordon Sherry (1995), Warren Bladon (1996), Alejandro Larrazabal (2002), Brian McElhinney (2005), Reinier Saxton (2008), Bryden MacPherson (2011) and Alan Dunbar (2012) spring to mind.

Of course, for every Sherry there’s a Graeme Storm (1999), Mikko Ilonen (2000), Michael Hoey (2001), Matteo Manassero (2009), Jin Jeong (2010) and Romain Langasque (2015), players who went on to become European Tour winners. Langasque joined the European Tour’s roll of winners last week when he won the ISPS Handa Wales Open.

There’s even the occasional Jose Maria Olazabal (1984) and Sergio Garcia (1998) who went on to major championship success.

No surprise Harvey was disappointed not to have won the 125th Amateur, albeit he was magnanimous in defeat. He said:

“I was so happy for Joe when he holed that putt, but as a golfer, I was gutted that my chance to win had come to an end. I am so tired after a long week, so my emotions are a bit all over the place.”

He can take heart. Often the runner-up goes on to have a better career than the champion. Here’s a list of recent losing finalists who’ve impressed more in the pro game than the champions: Tommy Fleetwood (2008), Matthias Schwab (2012), Zander Lombard (2014) and Robert MacIntyre (2016). Obviously Bradley Neil and Scott Gregory, respective winners over Lombard and MacIntyre still have plenty of time to catch and overhaul the men they lost to.

Fleetwood spoke volumes about why he’s made it on the European Tour while others who were better than him in the amateur game haven’t. In Thomas Bjorn’s book Mind Game: The Secrets of Golf’s Winners, he said:

“Some people don’t have the work ethic. They don’t want to get out of bed to graft, to get out here and do it. Whatever mood I was in, I would have got up at five in the morning, and still been on the range at seven in the evening, if I thought that was what was needed.”

Fleetwood’s five European Tour victories, winning the 2017 Race to Dubai, a spot in the 2018 Ryder Cup, runner-up finishes in the 2018 U.S. Open and last year’s Open Championship, and his bank balance, are evidence of the rewards awaiting those willing to get out of bed at 5am every day determined to make the most of their talents.

#JustSaying: “The purses are obscene. The average worker, let’s say, makes $25,000 a year, while a golfer makes $25,000 for finishing 10th. Our values have departed somewhat.” Tom Watson in 1989

Photo courtesy of the R&A

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