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Reflections On the Amateur Season

Reflections on a long summer on the amateur trail:

Jordan Niebrugge is a stud. The Oklahoma State sophomore is a classic late bloomer. Ranked outside the top 100 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking as the summer began, Niebrugge won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the Western Amateur in the space of three weeks. This young man likely has no idea how high up is. In the capable hands of new OSU coach Alan Bratton, he will find out.

Traditionalists were a bit aghast that the final four at the U.S. Amateur did not include a single American player. Note to traditionalists: It’s a global game, further evidenced by the fact that Americans claim just four of the top 10 spots in the WAGR as of this writing. If anything, the Amateur final four served as another data point to support the argument that the American college golf system might not be the best way to the pro game. Doubters might ask PGA Tour boy wonder Jordan Spieth what he thinks.

That it took the entire summer for U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick to garner the respect he deserves in the UK is a head scratcher. The 18-year-old British lad was apparently thought to be ranked a bit high in the WAGR by virtue of his 2012 British Boys Championship. The word “fluke” was even whispered after
his low amateur performance at the Open Championship at Muirfield. It was only when he finished runner-up at the English Amateur that the Walker Cup selectors began to take him seriously. Now, as reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Fitzpatrick will be the team leader.

The American Walker Cup selection process is imperfect – so get over it. The members of the USGA International Team Selection Committee are going to do it their way, regardless of what anyone else thinks. But here’s the thing: If you were really paying attention and had your own scoring system, you would have agreed with at least seven of the eight amateurs selected to play this week at the National Golf Links. At the margin, the last selection always will be debatable.

The USGA decision to include at least two mid-amateurs on the Walker Cup team energized the mid-amateur community in America. No fewer than a dozen mid-ams came into the year hoping to make the team. They got in shape, worked on their games, and played more often. Here’s hoping the two-man stipulation continues well into the future.

In retrospect, it’s apparent that Nathan Smith was going to be one of the two mid-ams on the Walker Cup team barring a serious injury. So the competition among mid-ams was for just one, not two, spots. After the Coleman Invitational, where Mike McCoy cruised to victory, it was down to two players: McCoy or Todd White. Anyone else was going to have to do something dramatic, like win an important event. It didn’t happen, and White edged McCoy by a nose.


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