Stars Of The Future To Be Showcased In Sydney

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA | There’s a wave of amateur talent coming across the Pacific – and it’s growing in depth. It began with little fanfare, but this week’s Australian Open promises to be the showcase of future household names.
Months after beating Tiger Woods’ mark as the youngest U.S. Amateur champion in 2008, New Zealander Danny Lee made world headlines when he won the European Tour’s 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic as an 18-year-old amateur.
Florida-based Korean An Byeong-hun broke Lee’s age record in 2009; Melbourne-based Korean Jin Jeong won the 2010 British Amateur en route to a 14th place finish at The Open a few weeks later.
A pattern is emerging – and it’s not just restricted to the boys. There’s arguably been no more eye-opening golf story this year than Kiwi Lydia Ko winning the LPGA Tour’s Canadian Open at age 15 in August – and that came just months after becoming the youngest winner of a professional event on a major tour, at the New South Wales Open in January as a 14-year-old.
While Australia has a rich history of amateur golf – Aaron Baddeley won the 1999 Australian Open before he turned pro – this momentum is growing across the Asia-Pacific region.
University of Tennessee-bound West Australian Oliver Goss won his state open in October, fending off an elite Australian PGA Tour field before beating fellow amateur Brady Watt in a playoff. A week later, 19-year-old Aussie Jake Higginbottom became the first amateur in 56 years to win the New Zealand Open before turning pro last week. And last week, rookie Matthew Stieger edged fellow rookie Daniel Nisbet at the NSW PGA Championship.
So it should come as no surprise that the amateur talents who tee it up this week warrant a little more attention than in recent years. But rather than depend on the constant exposure to their idols for their improvement, the financial realities of world golf has meant these youngsters have taken matters into their own hands.
While the likes of Adam Scott, Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy had a healthy diet of Greg Norman on which to shape their dreams, Golf Australia’s high-performance director Brad James says the new breed is rapidly becoming self-sufficient and building a culture of winning.
“I think the difficulty of these guys (as role models) is that they live overseas most of the year and we haven’t had them living in Australia for a few years now because they need to be away,” James said.
“So we’ve needed to create that culture ourselves. In the past six months, amateur golfers in Australia are just getting more access to some of these professional events and are obviously having success.
“You only need one person to have success and I think it changes the general culture … and how the amateurs are perceived,” James continued. “The kids are now thinking they can belong and beat these guys even though they are playing as amateurs in professional events.”
Goss and fellow Aussies Nathan Holman and Cameron Smith should be prominent this week, but they aren’t likely to match two other amateurs who will tee it up at The Lakes in Sydney in the publicity stakes.
Andy Zhang, still days short of his 15th birthday, made history when he made the U.S. Open field in San Francisco this year. He will be joined by another Asian prodigy this week in 14-year-old Chinese compatriot Guan Tianlang, who won the Asia-Pacific Amateur in November and qualified for The Masters. And there are two young Kiwis who can really play, too, in Tyler Hodge and Vaughan McCall.
Clearly, Australia is not alone in this amateur charge. But James says the reason for the progress is common across the region.
“There’s a different mindset with the kids of late and technology has changed a lot of that,” he said. “They are much better prepared from technical, strategic and physical and emotional standpoints.
“When they get out there and get close to that success, they’re able to carry it on and move to that next level that has eluded them in the past.”
James wouldn’t be drawn on who might be the best of the emerging bunch, but says another outstanding young female talent is the unlikely inspiration. He says Minjee Lee, this year’s U.S. Girls junior champion, has taken self-teaching technology to a new level.
“Here’s a girl who uses all the technical expertise she can find,” James said. “Physically, she does everything she needs to do but, at 16, she’s downloading software onto her computer so she can use her own Trackman (swing and ball flight analysis software).
“That mentality has changed our national squad’s culture. She’s even got the guys looking at that. There’s a massive breed of kids who are 13-16 right now who have this culture at their disposal.
“In the old days,” he continued, “coaches and players were afraid to use technology almost because there was too much information. But golf has changed – we’re now producing athletes and that information is helping them get better.”
And just how much we’ll find out again this week in Sydney.


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