Silver Medal winners that achieved Major Championship glory
It would not be fanciful to say the Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur after 72 holes of an Open Championship is one of the most coveted and treasured of trophies.
The medal has been played for since 1949 and was won four times in the first five years by Frank Stranahan, of the United States. Since then only three players have won it twice: Joe Carr, Sir Michael Bonallack and Peter McEvoy.
Interestingly, only two of the 42 players to have won the Silver Medal later captured the Open Championship itself: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Since 1981, however, five have gone on to become Major Champions. In order: Hal Sutton, Jose Maria Olazabal, Woods, Justin Rose and McIlroy.
TAKE FIVE …
When Sutton finished as leading amateur at Royal St George’s in 1981 most observers felt that great things lay ahead for the feisty young American. At 23, he had the look of a star in the making and was soon living up to expectations. He turned professional later that year and won his first tournament on the PGA Tour the following season.
When Sutton claimed the 1983 US PGA Championship, Jack Nicklaus was not the only player telling him: “I feel this is going to be the first of many.” Alas, it turned out to be the one and only. Sutton, who went on to become US Ryder Cup captain in 2004, never quite scaled the heights again, although he did beat Woods down the stretch to win The Players Championship in 2000 and had a total of 14 wins on tour.
Best Open finish: T10, 1999
Jose Maria Olazabal
This year’s Open marks the 30th anniversary of Olazabal’s Silver Medal winning performance at Royal St George’s in 1985. At just 19, Olazabal looked every inch the next great thing from Spain. And so it proved. A year earlier, he had won the Amateur Championship at Formby, beating Colin Montgomerie 5&4 in the final, and brought to the table a supreme long-iron game and a form of wizardry around the greens that seemed to come straight out of the Severiano Ballesteros training manual.
Olazabal, widely regarded as one of the game’s true gentlemen, turned professional in 1986 and promptly finished second on the European Tour’s Order of Merit. He won the Masters in 1994 and again in 1999 after returning from a debilitating foot injury that had threatened to end his career. He played in seven Ryder Cup matches, formed the most successful pairing in the history of the competition with Ballesteros, and went on to captain the winning Europe team at Medinah, Chicago, in 2012.
Best Open finish: 3, 1992; T3, 2005
After finishing as leading amateur at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1996, Woods went on to claim a record third consecutive US Amateur Championship before immediately turning professional at the ripe old age of 20. By the end of the year, he had claimed two victories on the PGA Tour in just seven events and was up and running, virtually uncatchable.
The following April, Woods truly arrived with a stunning victory at the 1997 Masters, where he cruised to a 12-shot win and became the youngest winner in the history of the tournament. His first and second Open wins came at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005, and his third came at Royal Liverpool in 2006. He now has 14 Majors to his name (Four Masters, three US Opens, three Opens, four US PGAs) but won his last, the US Open, in 2008. He needs another four to equal Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18.
Best Open finish: Winner, 2000, ’05, ‘06
The enduring image of Justin Rose is of his celebration – cap off, arms spread wide, eyes looking towards the heavens – after he had pitched in from 90 yards at the 72nd hole of the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale. At just 17 years of age, the Englishman had already thrust himself into the national consciousness with his performance on the links that week, but his ‘wonder shot’ froze it in time. The South African born Rose finished in a tie for fourth and suddenly found he was being spoken of as a Major Champion of the future.
Buoyed by his accomplishment, Rose turned professional the next day, only to miss the halfway cut in his first 21 events in the paid ranks. Ask him today and he will tell you that he became stronger in adversity. With a work ethic second to none, Rose has steadily climbed to the top of the world game and made his Major Championship breakthrough at the 2013 US Open at Merion, where he held off Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald on the final day to win by two shots, and rose to number three in the world rankings.
Best Open finish: T4, 1998
With his reputation beginning to travel before him, plenty of eyes were turned towards McIlroy when he teed off in the first round of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie. Far from being cowed by the occasion, however, the 18-year-old Northern Irishman thrived on the biggest stage of them all. He came in with a 68 that day (one ahead of Tiger Woods, the player whose mantle as best golfer in the world McIlroy would eventually claim for his own) and was the only player not to drop a shot. As a statement of intent, it said it all. He was to finish T42 for the week.
McIlroy turned professional the same year and made an immediate impact by finishing third in his second event, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. His breakthrough victory came at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009 and he has not looked back. He arrives at St Andrews this year as the defending Open Champion, following a stunning wire-to-wire win at Hoylake in which he became the third player after Jack Nicklaus and Woods to win three Majors by the age of 25. His previous wins were the 2011 US Open and the 2012 US PGA Championship, a title he reclaimed after last year’s Open.
Best Open finish: Winner, 2014