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Musical Chairs Summer On Amateur Beat

The theme song to the 2012 summer amateur season would have to be the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin,” with its now famous refrain, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Consider:
The No. 1 player in the world as summer began, Patrick Cantlay, turned pro within seconds of his final putt dropping at the U.S. Open in San Francisco. The No. 2 player in the world as summer dawned, Jordan Spieth, was a rumor on the amateur circuit. He played pro golf for the most part this summer, and his only amateur appearance after the NCAA Championship was at the U.S. Amateur, where he made an early exit.
A high school kid, 16-year-old Beau Hossler, contended for three-plus rounds at the U.S. Open. The U.S. kicked away the Palmer Cup, losing seven of 10 matches on the final day in an unprecedented collapse at Royal County Down in Ireland. A Korean youngster, Justin Shin, who lives in Canada and attends school in New Mexico, won the Northeast Amateur. An Australian lad, Daniel Nisbet, who was once suspended from amateur golf, won the rain-shortened Players Amateur, and then was disqualified in an odd situation at the Western Amateur.
College golf’s two brightest young stars – Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers, who combined to win six tournaments in the last school campaign, won a combined zero summer events. And the best player of the summer may well have been an Ivy Leaguer who hails from the not-so-golf friendly climate of New Hampshire.
And so, as the elite summer amateur season ends and a new school season begins, here is what we learned:
• Chris Williams is a stud. The University of Washington senior, named last week as the winner of the Mark McCormack Medal as the leading amateur in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, won both the Western Amateur stroke play medal as well as the overall title. He cruised through the U.S. Amateur before being upset by ultimate winner Steven Fox in the quarterfinals. Fatigue could have been a factor; Williams prefers to carry his own bag, and at Denver’s altitude, that may not have been the best plan. Williams is an early favorite for college player of the year in 2012-13.
• Bobby Wyatt too is also studly. Wyatt, a University of Alabama junior, started the summer with a win at Sunnehanna and was often in contention thereafter. He tied the U.S. Amateur stroke-play record and went deep that week, falling to Alabama teammate Thomas in the fourth round. With these two players anchoring the Crimson Tide, look for Alabama to avenge its most recent NCAA championship heartbreak next spring in Atlanta.
• The USGA has a solid nucleus of four kids who can be expected to be a key component of the 2013 Walker Cup team attempting to wrestle back the Cup from Great Britain and Ireland. Williams and Rodgers, veterans from the 2011 team, will likely be joined by Thomas and Wyatt on Captain Jim Holtgrieve’s squad at the National Golf Links next fall. Six more players – or maybe even a mid-am or two – will have the opportunity to grab a spot on the team.
• The summer amateur game is clearly being impacted by pro golf. The PGA Tour and Web.com Tour’s willingness to provide exemptions to the amateur elite is impacting scheduling for players and tournaments alike. Rodgers skipped the Northeast Amateur to play in the Hartford PGA Tour event. Spieth and Hossler played the AT&T National in Washington, D.C., and the Columbus, Ohio, Web.com event continues to exempt top-tier amateurs based on their college achievements. This latter move caused the Porter Cup to change its dates to avoid conflicting with the Columbus tournament, but landed it opposite the Southern Amateur.
This is neither good nor bad, it just is. Really talented kids are getting a taste of the pro game, enabling them to take stock of where they stand against the pay-for-play crowd. Amateur events are losing some marquis players, but the depth of the amateur game means that kids like Peter Williamson and Richy Werenski get a chance to shine.
This could prove problematic for the Walker Cup selection process next summer. The USGA selectors are not prowling the Web.com or PGA Tour fairways; they want know how the best collegiates stack up against each other, not against the pros. I expect an admonition to be delivered at the 2013 practice session: play amateur golf if you really want to make the team.
And then there is Williamson, the Dartmouth graduate who began the summer ranked No. 91 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and finished it inside the top 10. Nobody saw that coming. To be sure, Williamson had an outstanding four-year career at Dartmouth. But he was an unknown commodity on the elite circuit before he won the North and South Amateur and then backed it up with a win at the Southern Amateur. An intense player, he had the misfortune to draw world No. 1 Williams early at the U.S. Amateur, and his visit to Cherry Hills was shorter than he had hoped. It is on to the pro game for this Ivy Leaguer.
It is a long, strange trip from Dartmouth to the Tour. But don’t bet against Williamson – those who did came up short in the summer of 2012.


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