The search for the Silver Medal
This year there are five amateurs competing in The 146th Open and recent Birkdale history suggests that one of them might make a name for himself before the Championship is over.
Most golf fans will remember how 17-year-old Justin Rose holed out from 50 yards short of the 72nd green to finish tied fourth back in 1998 but fewer might recall that ten years later 21-year-old Chris Wood also claimed a top five finish before joining his compatriot in the paid ranks.
Royal Birkdale has invariably been a rich hunting ground for amateurs competing in The Open and this year it might be no different with five top players competing to win the Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur who plays all four rounds of the Championship.
That list is headed by America’s Maverick McNealy, who earned his place in the Championship after finishing last season as the No. 1 player on the official World Amateur Golf RankingTM, and it also includes 2016 European Amateur champion, Italy’s Luca Cianchetti, his successor England’s Alfie Plant, reigning Amateur champion Harry Ellis and Scottish international Connor Syme, who finished in a share of first place at Open Final Qualifying at Gailes Links.
“It is going to be an experience I will never forget,” said Ellis, whose win at Royal St George’s also earns him a place in next year’s Masters Tournament and US Open. “It has always been a dream to play in majors and now I get the chance to play in three.
“It’s all stuff I’ve prepared for and I think I’m ready,” he added. “I think my game is there to compete at this sort of level but, whatever happens, I’m going to enjoy it and get as much out of it as I can.”
That sentiment was shared by Syme, the winner of the 2016 Australian Amateur, who won all three of his singles matches while representing his country in last week’s European Men’s Amateur Team Championship in Austria.
“I’m so excited to be playing in The Open, he said. “It’s a Championship I have admired for years and to be able to say I’m playing is just unbelievable. I can’t wait.”
Plant admits he is having the time of his life mingling with the players he normally only watches on TV.
“This is a dream come true for me,” the 25-year-old said before going out for a practice round with Japanese stars Hideki Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara. “This is one event I’ve wanted to play in since I was a kid. I was like most kids in that I used to stand on the putting green imagining I was trying to hole a putt to win The Open. You dream of these days and now it’s about to come true for me.
“It’s even better than I thought it would be. It’s all the little things, like being picked up in a car and getting the opportunity to mingle with the players in the players’ lounge. Everyone gets treated the same. For this one week, I get exactly the same as Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy which is great. Basically, you get anything you want.
“The goal is to try to make the weekend and then challenge for the Silver Medal,” he added. “There’s only five of us, so if I can make the cut, I’ve got to have a good chance.”