Jed amateur by name, not by game
The men’s Australian Amateur Championship is a difficult title to win because getting through all five rounds of match play usually involves at least one escape from a losable match.
Rarely has the title been captured as easily as it was last week at Royal Queensland when club member Jed Morgan was only once stretched past the 15th hole – and then only by one hole in his 3&2 quarter-final win over fellow Queenslander Elvis Smylie.
Morgan was clearly the class of the field with as solid a method as you are likely to see in amateur golf and, unlike 17-year-old Smylie, a mature body capable of driving the ball as far as anyone needs in order to survive on the professional tour. The remainder of Morgan’s game looks good enough to do more than just survive.
The nature of amateur golf in this era is much different than decades ago. Many players back in the proverbial “old days” had families and jobs and “careers” playing serious amateur golf. What it wasn’t for men including Kevin Hartley and Tony Gresham, was a pathway to a professional tour.
Now it’s simply a stepping stone and, from my observations of the championship, most players looked to be dreaming of playing for money.
Some likely will succeed, but many won’t even be playing golf 10 years from now. In recognition perhaps of the reality of this, there is talk of playing future championships as 72- hole stroke play tournaments.
The USGA tried the same after its 1964 championship and continued the experiment through 1972. One wonders why they reverted to matches, but there appears no push to again become a facsimile of what we see each week on the pro tour.
There is much to be learnt from playing matches.
Smylie, for example, playing his second and third round matches, was down for 35 of the 37 holes he played. When one false shot through the final three holes of either match would have proved costly, he experienced the pressure of winning a tight stroke play championship and, like it or not, most professional events turn into match play at the very end.
It’s an experience not to be discounted as irrelevant to what these kids are going to experience on the world’s tours. Or more importantly, at the tour schools so many struggle to escape.
One reward for Morgan is an exemption into the European Tour co-sanctioned Vic Open. Given the strength of the men’s field, winning is not beyond him and it would be the best way to bypass the rigours of a European Q-school.
Of personal interest was how the golf course Bruce Grant, John Sloan and I designed in 2006 was going to play in an era obsessed with clubhead speed, distance and hitting the ball as hard as you possible can.
Royal Queensland is a wide course from the tee, one offering players several choices of both line and club. We placed several bunkers in the middle of the fairways, most of which we assumed – hoped, even - wouldn’t be easily carried from the tee.
Yet there wasn’t a single one I didn’t see a player hit over during the week. Most involved flying the ball 270-280m in the heavy air, but Morgan and a few others just seem to swing harder and get it over.
Tom Doak recently rebuilt Memorial Park, a public course in Houston, in preparation for a PGA Tour event this year. Brooks Koepka was his “player consultant” and Doak quizzed him about the most threatening distance to place the drive bunkers for a tour player.
Koepka essentially suggested it didn’t matter where the bunkers were because he’d just hit over them. And if he couldn’t get over, he’d take a 3-wood and play short, but would be so close to the green anyway that it wouldn’t matter he was giving up some yardage.
Royal Queensland is notable for a few controversial greens including those at the 12th, 13th and 16th holes. The 16th is particularly unpopular amongst some in the membership with the front and back divided by a sharp ridge through the middle of the green, a feature demanding a precise approach.
For professionals, playing to the middle of a green is almost always a safe option. But as Doak recently noted, the middle of greens can be made treacherous and force players to take on the challenge of a more difficult shot or be left to face long and difficult putts.
Morgan will likely be a professional by the time next year’s championship comes around, thus ensuring a new winner next year.
Doug Bachli, the winner in 1948 and 1962, was the most recent man to win the Aussie Amateur twice.
That there have been 69 different winners in 69 years since Bob Stevens in Perth in 1952 shows how difficult it is to win, but rarely has it been won so convincingly as it was last week.