Published August 30, 2011
Tags: amateur career, amateur champion, amateur record, college golf, Mattsson blog, ncaa championships, peter uihlein, Uhlein, Walker Cup, Wie
The Walker Cup is soon here and with that possibly the biggest moment of the amateur career of the players’ taking part. This means now is the time for speculation about what will happen next. As I scan through some of the written stuff on the web this morning I come across two rather interesting articles. One is about Peter Uihlein going to qualifying school this autumn. Bearing in mind that he up until last week was the reigning US Amateur Champion with an amateur record that most could only dream about this would not be strange at all. If it wasn’t for the last bit of the article that says that even if he makes it (gets his card), he will not turn professional until after the NCAA Championships in 2012 (which he will play with his school, Oklahoma University). The only reason he is going to Q-school is that he hopes to strengthen his brand with a view to better his chances for sponsor’s invitations post June 2012. By then he will (probably) have his degree and be ready to focus entirely on his golf.
The second interesting article was about Michelle Wie taking half term a little bit early to go and play the Solheim Cup. Miss Wie is a student at Stanford, something she combines with playing the LPGA Tour. I guess just instead of playing the normal college programme that regular student-athletes would do. Quite amazing if you ask me.
Is there a lesson to be learned here? Will Peter Uihlein and Michelle Wie go on to rule the World of Golf? Quite possibly. Will they be rounded, competent people with a solid ground to stand on, both feet, no matter what they end up doing in the future? Most definitely!
This was the title of the great Peter McEvoy’s book from 2006 and I come to think of it again as I read the news about Augusta States win in the NCAA finals over the weekend. Peter, perhaps the greatest amateur of all times, of course reflected over the difference between playing for money and purely for the glory and the trophy in his book and as sports develop there are not many places where the glory is still the highest price. In fact, you could easily argue that pride and glory have very little to do with it even in the NCAA finals as come the following week pretty much everyone in Augusta’s winning team will be playing professional golf. And if not that week then the week after, as the Palmer Cup has concluded. Amateur golf is no doubt the breeding ground for the professional game and a successful career in college and/or in the big amateur events around the world will give you every chance of a jump start entry into the professional ranks.
As I read Sean Martin’s article on Augusta State though I almost do get a little tear in my eye. Here is the team of five seniors and a Head Coach, all in their Augusta State uniforms for the very last time. The five players are leaving school and Josh Gregory, the coach, is heading to Dallas to take up the Head Coach position at SMU, his alma mater where he played college golf himself. One last round with the old gang – and the underdog once again comes out victorious. Augusta State is the Division 2 school, only in the first division in one sport – golf, that last year showed that pride, committment and team spirit can win you great titles even without the hefty budgets of other teams. They have now done it twice in a row and it won’t matter that they will come nowhere near next year. In performance sports it is about living in the NOW and I have a feeling this was the greatest present that the five graduating players and the leaving coach could ever get. In another sport this would have made the movies.
When Annika Sorenstam played with the men in the PGA Tour event at Colonial in 2003 I was invited to Studio 1 on Swedish radio to discuss the concept of men’s and women’s sports and the possibility of uniting the two. Or perhaps the lack of interest in bringing the two together. Of course when Annika played, it was a huge thing in the world of sport and it was probably the first time that golf, and perhaps sports in general, played a part in Studio 1. This is were they would normally discuss things like domestic politics and the Middle East crisis. Now Annika had given the world’s media a chance to make her the lone soldier of the female population, ready to take on the men and the unequal society. In Annika’s own mind she had only accepted a chance to test herself against the men and she later admitted that perhaps this was a bit naive. She simply could not understand how big this was going to become.
I am once again reminded about this when I read about the first woman to qualify for a men’s tour in golf. Isabelle Beisiegel has earned her card for the Canadian Tour and even though that is not one of the major places of work for professional golfers it is quite a step for a female golfer. When I was on Studio 1, philosopher Claudio Tamburrini, argued that separating men and women in sports is just another act of sexism. He claims that separating the two is merely a case of the men being afraid of losing to the women. One example that he gives is the 1992 Olympics where 14 year old Shan Zang won the gold medal in trap shooting, against the men. After that the sport was removed from the Olympic programme and when it returned in 2000 men and women were separated. It will be interesting to see what happens in golf going forward!
There will be many articles and blogs on golf websites around the world talking about Severiano Ballesteros this weekend. Golf’s (last?) true magician has finally lost his battle against cancer and the world of golf is a sadder place for it. I usually turn to Golfweek to get the in-depth analysis of important happenings in golf and so also this time. Alistair Tait has written an excellent tribute to the five time major champion that was so much more than ‘just’ a major champion. Every golfer will today revert to think about their own memories of Seve. Two immediately come to my mind; the video that I once got, showing Seve’s win in the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews and the first opportunity that I had to watch him live – in the Scandinavian Enterprise Open. He was the golfer we all wanted to be. Not because of his brilliant technique but for what he could do with a golf ball. And for the way he took on a golf course.
At the England v Spain match I come to talk to the Spanish Coach, Domingo Hospital, who played a lot with Seve. Domingo tells me how they always played the practice rounds together on tour and with a tear in his eye he says that there will never be another player like him. I think we all know Domingo is right which makes yesterday an even sadder day.
A silent minute for Seve, picture © Tom Ward
By some very magical coincidence the great National hero picked this weekend to pass away. The European Tour are in Spain for the Spanish Open and the Spanish amateur team are playing a match against England. Tributes were held all over the world and to witness the silent minute held at the Berkshire Golf Club was very emotional. The tribute finished with a round of applause that never seemed to wat to finish. Severiano Ballesteros has left the game that he helped to define. The game will live on but it won’t be anywhere near as exciting as it once was.
The Lytham Trophy concluded on Sunday and after a pretty cruel couple of days over the Links. Jack Senior, Lancashire, finished on top of the leaderboard. Jack is on a good run and now holds the title in Egypt, having won the Egypt Amateur in the autumn, in New South Wales in Australia where he beat fellow country man Andy Sullivan in the final and since Sunday, at Lytham. Jack will no doubt be one to watch over this summer.
As so often before though my reflections after a tournament is not really about the winner. This time they are instead about two players that were not even playing. They were caddying. Matt Nixon and James Robinson both walked around Royal Lytham carrying a bag or pulling a cart. The reason they did this is that they are now professionals and have therefore joined another life. Matt got his European Tour card in December and has since made quite an impressive start to his professional career. James on the other hand has joined the Europro Tour and will need some good finishes to start climbing up the ladder. I can’t help thinking that it would have been quite nice if they could have played rather than caddied. Why is it that we have to have these incredibly rigid rules that stop the flow of players moving up and down the ladder? The ball does not care if you are an amateur or a professional. A Matt Nixon in the field would have given the young guns a real chance to test themselves against a tour player. In fact one that was one of them, in this field last year. And for Matt – I bet he would have made the best of a chance to play four days around an Open Championship golf course. No matter how grim the conditions were…
Today I sit down to reflect over what to say when I open up the inaugural England Golf County Academy Conference tomorrow. The County Academies are in many ways the first step on the player pathway for young golfers wanting to progress. Many of those that in the future will be playing the professional tours will come nowhere near this step on the ladder though. In fact, when they are in their early years they may not even be thinking about golf. Somewhere along the way, if we want players that can play this game, we as golf better make sure that their paths cross ours. Traditionally that would be in a club environment to which the youngster is probably brought by parents or perhaps a friend.
In this day and age though times are quite tough for sports. There seems to be a lot of other things that call for attention and more often than not those things are definitely more accessible than sport. Many times you do not need to leave the comfort of your own house. In fact, you could play a lot of sport without doing that, thanks to things like Wii and other gaming tools. So how can we compete with this? I think it is actually quite easy. And at the same time obviously incredibly difficult because we are likely to be looking at something like a massive oil tanker to try to turn around. It takes a lot of effort.
So for the easy bit, we need:
1. Facilities that are, if not in the basement, close enough for youngsters to get to on their own;
2. Facilities where we can experience “the game” and not just parts of “the game”
3. Attractions in terms of ‘cool’ people seen in media playing the sport
and 4. the most difficult one of all – people who can help make all this the best thing since sliced bread and even more fun than the Wii at home.
And how is golf doing? Well, we certainly do not have the easiest of circumstances but I really think work is in progress…
This week it is the tee off of the European Team Golf season. The European Nation’s Cup at Sotogrande has become a real test early in the year. England is out for the third consecutive win with a team of Laurie Canter, Tom Lewis, Jack Senior and Andrew Sullivan. Should be an interesting week! And as a sign of what Amateur golf is often like I cannot find a single bit about this tournament online. Will keep looking and update when I can!
Devoted readers will remember when I wrote about the experiences from the choir where two of my children sing (if you don’t, click here). The beuty of that choir and the Christmas concert that I of course went to see is that people of all ages and abilities come together. The less experienced have somebody to look up to and something to aspire towards. This also serves as a bit of a reality check as the risk of something that quite often happens in sport – somebody becoming a big fish in a small pond – is minimal. There is usually somebody there who is better, partly because he or she is older and more experienced, who will help the youngsters to understand that an important first step is probably to become the best in that bunch.
As I now sit down and reflect over the first true sign of spring in English golf, the Sunningdale Foursomes, I realise that this exists also in golf. At least it does this week. the Sunningdale Foursomes are quite unique. Played around the beautiful Old Course at Sunningdale, for the first time in 1934, for amateurs, professionals, men and ladies it is just a great melting pot of different experiences coming together. Among the winners of previous Sunningdale Foursomes you can find Open Championship winners (Alf Padgham and Max Faulkner) as well as the current World number 3, Luke Donald. And even if not playing, you can bet your bottom dollar that a visit to Sunningdale this week will give you a good chance to spot ex Ryder Cup Captain and legend Sam Torrance hiding in the club house. It is of course this mix of grey hair with young enthusiasm, experience from the tour with junior champions and not the least men and women coming together that we should do so much more of. The silo type of working is a decease that is spreading across our society, not just in sport but in pretty much every walk of life and I am sure that it limits our development greatly. We have just got so much to learn from each other!
And not that it really matters but if you are interested in the results at Sunningdale – they should appear here. If you are a true golf fan, you will put on your best cap, perhaps take your dog and your walking stick and join the members on the fairways for what is truly a great experience. But perhaps you are just too far away from Sunningdale…