SILLOTH, ENGLAND | Golf fans with an interest in obscure statistics might well know that Gary Wolstenholme holds the record for the most appearances in England’s amateur golf team.
The double-Amateur champion, who has recently forged a successful career on the European Senior Tour, collected a total of 218 caps between 1988 and 2007 and in the process racked up no less than 130 victories and 142½ points for his country’s cause.
Wolstenholme’s record is exceptional, but back in days past, it was by no means rare for players to hang around long enough to accumulate more than 50 caps. Peter McEvoy (153) and Sir Michael Bonallack (131) both made it into triple figures, while Colin Edwards and Rodney Foster were not far behind on 86. Dr David Marsh is next on the list with 75, while Peter Hedges finished just two caps short of that mark on 73.
But that was then and this is now and things have changed so much that nowadays few players make it into double-figures.
“The transition between amateur golf and professional golf happens quicker than it has ever done before,” confirmed Nigel Edwards, the Welshman who captained last year’s victorious GB&I Walker Cup team and is now Director of Coaching for England. “Most of them are quite literally here today and gone tomorrow.”
Edwards was at Silloth on Solway in his capacity as a selector for both the England and GB&I teams and cannot help but have noticed how rapidly the personnel has changed even since Steven Brown, from Wentworth, defeated Burnham & Berrow’s Jamie Clare in last year’s English Amateur final at Woburn.
This year, the oldest men in the English Amateur field were probably 49-year-old John Longcake (Silloth on Solway) and 44-year-old Ed Richardson (Hemsted Forest). Once Richardson departed the scene after losing in the second round, the most established figure left was 26-year-old Neil Raymond.
Raymond is best known in English amateur golf circles as the man who arrived in Cumbria having emulated the aforementioned Rodney Foster by winning the last two Brabazon Trophies. What even insiders might not be aware of is that of the 14 players who comprised England’s Elite squad at the start of last season, he is the only one who has yet to turn professional.
It is alarming to learn that over the last three years England Golf has lost over 40 members of its various squads to the paid ranks, so it is to the great credit of both their successors and their coaches that so much good golf was played over the magnificent Silloth links.
There is no doubt that English golf is in a period of transition at present. There appears to be no-one around to rival the likes of recent converts Tom Lewis, Tommy Fleetwood and Jack Senior, but the signs are it that will not be long before that vacuum is filled.
I spent a couple of days watching the action unfold at Silloth and was impressed by the standard of golf displayed by some of the youngsters coming through the ranks. I do not envy the task of the selectors when they come to naming the English side for the forthcoming Home Internationals at Glasgow Gailes. There are probably six cast-iron picks but little to choose between a sizeable cast of other contenders.
At Silloth, 19-year-old Jordon Smith was a revelation, leading the qualifiers after rounds of 69 and 71 and then repeating that form with a series of fine performances in the match play stages. Ben Taylor, 20, continues to impress and is the only player to have made it into the last eight in both 2011 and 2012, while Seb Crookall-Nixon, Harry Ellis, Nathan Kimsey and Henry Tomlinson all lived up to their burgeoning reputations with fine displays of controlled golf on a challenging links.
Each year, the English Amateur unearths at least one surprise package and this time it fell to Shaun Marshall, from Blankey in Lincolnshire, to fulfil that role.
Marshall is a carpenter by trade and he had to get his hands dirty in order to repair a puncture on the morning of the first round. That inconvenience did not stop him accounting for Max Williams (Cuddington), elite squad member Craig Hinton (The Oxfordshire) and James Ashman (Worthing) before succumbing to Kimsey on Friday morning.
Marshall made a big impression at Silloth but maybe not quite as much as local Cumbrian, Crookall-Nixon from Workington. The 18-year-old from Workington has long been touted as one of his country’s brightest prospects but what made his performance in front of his home County fans even more noteworthy was that a mere two months before he had broken a collar bone and a wrist in a serious car accident.
The teenager only started practising again three weeks ahead of the Championship but he dispelled any fears of ring-rustiness by romping through qualifying before bowing out to 16-year-old Boys’ squad member, Ellis, from Meon Valley, in the last eight.
It was a superlative effort and consolidated the belief that with the likes of teenagers Crookall-Nixon, Ellis, Kimsey, Smith and Tomlinson around, the future of English amateur golf is still in safe hands.