IN Ireland, WAGR (World Amateur Golf Ranking) sponsored by the USGA and R&A is practically ignored, and it is costing us dearly.
I'd go so far as to say WAGR undermines the Irish domestic senior scratch scene where our best players were developed once upon a time. From the heady days (not so long ago) of having five Irishmen on the GB&I Walker Cup team.
It is likely we will have but one (Robin Dawson) on the next team in 2019. From riches to rags in 4-years!
WAGR only suits full time amateurs with the financial backing to travel overseas to international events which, in my opinion, has undermined the structure of Irish golf.
As I see it, the 36-holes senior scratch cup circuit, regional championships and GUI cups and shields, so beneficial for our top players from a game development point of view in times of yore, are no longer relevant because of the lack of WAGR status.
In the same week as Francesco Molinari was winning The Open Championship, the Continent of Europe won the St Andrews Trophy in Linna, Finland by administering a severe thumping to the nine best amateurs selected to represent Great Britain and Ireland (3 Irish included) to deliver their biggest-ever win in this biennial contest.
Trailing 7-5 at the start of the second day, Team Europe won three of the morning foursomes matches to leave the two teams level at 8-8, but the final series of singles matches turned into a rout, 7.5-1.5. Even those with the shortest of memories will remember a similar outcome in the Jacques Leglise Trophy in Ballybunion last year when the European Boys team produced a similar outcome. It's a trend that has been building.
Golf is advancing very fast in Europe, especially in France and Italy, where the biggest difference between their development systems and ours is that support from National Federations carries on into the professional game. Elite amateurs in GB&I are cast adrift and are 'on their own' once they join the pro ranks. There is minimal fraternisation between top Irish amateurs and our established tour professionals.
Not only did the Italian Federations pay every expense Molinari incurred when he was an amateur, after he turned professional they continued to help him for the first two years until they knew he was doing well enough to survive on his own resources.
Molinari also benefited from being able to call on former and current tour players for advice as a matter of routine. The Italian Federation organizes regular orientation camps where Italian tour pros and amateurs can practice together, mixing and exchanging views.
In Italy and France, the top amateurs and top pros are friends. In Ireland, they may never meet until they become adversaries in a cutthroat environment.
Should I also mention the most recent achievements of the South Koreans on the European, PGA and LPGA Tours? Why are they steaming ahead and appearing more on more on leader boards? I don't have an answer but, there is no doubt that whatever the Koreans are doing it is working, and we should be studying it.
The Great Equalizer
We all know how important the short game is. We all know the short game is the great equalizer, but based on our current handicap do we know (statistically) if we are better or worse than average (taking our club handicap into account?)
Getting the ball ‘up and down’ in two shots from around the green (not including from sand, which has a separate category of its own) has long been seen as the shortest, short cut to competitive success in golf.
For the sake of an experiment, records were kept by the all-seeing ShotLink Computer in the USA for players of varying standards from a 50-yards radius of the hole.
Here are the 'three shots into two' results. Tour Pro: 65%; Amateur scratch player: 55%; 5-handicap: 40%; 10-handicap: 32%; 18-handicap: 20%; 24-handicap: 15%.
Probably a better measure of every player’s short game skill is in the Short Game Strokes Gained Category. That means how many approaches ended up 5-feet or less from the hole (almost guaranteeing a one putt) or how many approaches were rank bad shots that put the player in danger of taking an extra shot rather than saving one? i.e. (heaven forbid) four shots to hole out instead of two from under fifty yards.
Anyone in the habit of taking four shots from fifty yards more often than the desired two, has no chance in competition.
That is why the average putting distances was also measured (presuming the first approach landed on the green) Knowing the average length of your first putt is revelatory.
It may come as a surprise that tour players chip/pitch to within 5-feet from 50-yards and under less than 50% of the time (47%); Scratch Amateurs: manage to do it only 42%; 5-H'caps : 30%; 10-H'Caps: 23%; 15-H'caps: 18%; 20- H'Caps: 14% and 24-H'Caps: 11% - a little bit closer and they would all shoot lower scores. 15-handicappers and upwards tend to take four shots more often than two. Working on this part of the game pays dramatic dividends especially for high handicappers.
Words of the Wise
My favourite shots in golf and the only ones that I can be absolutely sure of achieving perfection are, the conceded putt and the practice swing - Lord Robertson