Ivan Morris column - Golf should be incentivizing ‘real’ amateur golfers

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
WITH each passing year, qualifying for the European Tour and staying there is getting harder. Not one Irishman graduated from Tour School for the upcoming 2015 European Tour season and four who had cards last year ‘lost’ them. There is no proven template for a smooth transition from top amateur to successful pro.

WITH each passing year, qualifying for the European Tour and staying there is getting harder. Not one Irishman graduated from Tour School for the upcoming 2015 European Tour season and four who had cards last year ‘lost’ them. There is no proven template for a smooth transition from top amateur to successful pro.

From a long list of GUI panelists that turned pro in the past 15-years only four, McIlroy, McDowell, Hoey and Lowry could be said to have gained serious traction. I’m convinced that our success stories to date would have happened without GUI mentoring and some of the golfers who haven’t made it might have done so under their own steam.

Irish Amateur Internationals who turned pro in the 2000s but have yet to make their mark are: Jonny Caldwell, Cian Curley, Paul Cutler, Alan Dunbar, Niall Kearney, Justin Keogh, Richard Kilpatrick, Brendan McCarroll, Michael McDermott, Brian McElhinney, Michael McGeady, Cian McNamara, Rory McNamara, Sean McTernan, Colm Moriarty, Mark Murphy, Aaron O’Callaghan, Richard O’Donovan, Paul O’Hanlon, Seamus Power, Tim Rice, Gareth Shaw, Simon Ward, Reeve Whitson. Gareth Maybin and Kevin Phelan did make inroads without establishing themselves. Is it too harsh to point out that neither was a dominant amateur as the possible reason? Neither won the ‘minimum’ of an Irish Close or Irish Amateur Open. An amateur needs to be winning these tournaments and a lot more besides before even thinking of going to tour school.

GUI officials state that it isn’t their role to develop players for the pro ranks. If so, how come the GUI undermines events at home by sending its panelists overseas in pursuit of WAGR points? The GUI’s continued support and encouragement of members of its elite panels to play in events overseas when there are provincial and national championships going on at the same time at home is daft. There is a shortage of WAGR points available in Irish events because of it.

In my opinion, the GUI is doing its elite panelists a disservice by supporting them as full-time amateur players for too long a period. Too much comfort, conformity and featherbedding in a team atmosphere (and too much match play golf) is ‘bad training’ for the survival of the fittest in the individualistic, lonely, stroke-play world of professional golf.

Before they are left high and dry without alternative career prospects, full-time amateurs who are deemed not to have made the grade within, say, 3-years must be told to set more realistic goals. Would-be professional golfers who haven’t made the grade within three years of taking the plunge must recognize that they have scant chance of success and should start thinking about an alternative career.

I would like to see a situation where our best amateurs could rub shoulders with elite, tour professionals more often. As a former beneficiary of GUI sponsorship, Rory McIlroy (who is now the patron of the event) should be leaned on to make arrangements with the European Tour to secure three invitational spots in the Irish Open annually; one for the current holder of the Irish Amateur Close Championship; one for the winner of the brand new Irish Mid-Amateur Championship and one for the winner of one of the provincial amateur championships (each receiving a spot annually in strict rotation.)

I’m keen to see a limit exercised as regards the length of time that players can remain as part of any national panel. If panelists haven’t improved sufficiently within three years in order to move onto ‘better things,’ why should they continue to be funded in order to compete in tournaments with other (unsubsidized) amateurs?

And, here’s the ‘kicker’ - the idea that I would be most keen to see coming to fruition. Instead of ‘workingmen’ competing with full-time golfers and students, adopt the American model for mid-amateur golf by reducing the age limit to 25, to give more ‘real’ amateurs a genuine incentive to compete at the highest level available to them i.e. in their own championships against each other on equal terms.

Finally, I’d love to see the Interprovincial Championships turned into a mid-amateur event. It’s almost impossible for a golfer over 25-years of age and holding down a proper job to be selected on the Irish International team, which is comprised, almost entirely of full-time golfers and Students under-22. In reality, playing in the inter-pros is a waste of time and energy for those guys.

We all know that golf needs to have at least a few good players giving a good example within their own Clubs. If the ‘scratch amateur for life’ were given the worthy incentive of playing representative golf for his province, it would be a motivator to keep one’s game sharp. Surely, genuine, low-handicap, amateurs who set a good example to us all and who pay their annual poll taxes to GUIHQ deserve more tournaments?

The harsh reality is: top-flight amateurs and mid-amateurs are completely different animals. If the GUI doesn’t try to produce world-class amateurs (who may, or may not, want to become pros) it’s not doing its job. Pro, or no pro, the job is the same if you want to compete against the best but let’s not forget the workingman.

Words of the Wise:

Golf is not a funeral, though both can be very sad affairs - Bernard Darwin