Expect Australia’s Matt Stieger to have a few cold beers if he wins this year’s British Amateur Championship.
That would show Golf Australia.
Stieger is through to the last eight, the fifth round, of the British Amateur, but no thanks to Golf Australia. He was kicked off Golf Australia’s High Performance Program this year after getting caught drinking a beer. He turned 21 on Feb. 14 and decided to let his hair down with a cold brew.
An Australian enjoying a frosty on his 21st birthday? Who knew?
“I am on six months’ probation,” Stieger said. “I had just finished second in the Australian Foursomes. I had played 36 holes, it was my 21st birthday and I figured since it wasn’t a Golf Australia event, I was OK to have a beer.”
“They have a strict no-alcohol policy,” Stieger said. “I got slapped on the wrist. I protested, but that’s their policy and I had to take it.”
Stieger nearly didn’t turn up for this year’s championship. As a former Tier 1 member of the Golf Australia program, he would have been entitled to about 6,000 Australian dollars (about $6,000 U.S.) worth of funding. That one beer meant he had to find other funds to travel to Scotland.
Luckily a friend stepped in to help.
Trefor Clayton, a fellow member at St. Michael’s Golf Club in Sydney, put up the money to fund Stieger’s summer golf. Besides the British Amateur, Stieger also has played in the Scottish Stroke Play and St. Andrews Links Trophy. He plans to play the U.S. Amateur later this summer, too, before trying for his PGA Tour card.
Stieger’s penalty seems particularly harsh given that the man whom he beat in the fourth round, Daniel Nisbet, was given an 18-month ban after the Court of Arbitration for Sports in Australia sanctioned him in February 2010 for possessing steroids.
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service stopped Nisbet at Brisbane Airport in August 2009 and seized a product in his possession listed as containing the banned substance norandrostene.
Stieger is in line to become the second consecutive Australian winner, and only the third in British Amateur history, following Bryden Macpherson’s victory at Hillside last year. Stieger sought out Macpherson’s advice before traveling to Scotland.
“He just told me to make pars,” Stieger said. “I did that today because it was brutal out there. Today it was just about hitting the middle of the green and two-putting.”
Alan Dunbar, meanwhile, is trying to become the first Irish winner since Brian McElhinney at Royal Birkdale in 2005. Dunbar was a surprise pick for last year’s Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team. However, the 22-year-old excelled at Royal Aberdeen last year, winning two out of three matches to help GB&I win the match, 14-12.
“I’ve had a couple of good performances in match play the last couple of years, and obviously the Walker Cup helped, too,” Dunbar said.
“I didn’t really come here with expectations. The goal is just to make the cut and see where you go from there.”
Dunbar goes to the last eight after defeating reigning Scottish Stroke Play champion Paul Barjon of France by two holes.
Scotland’s Paul Ferrier is also through to the last eight. He has college golf to thank for that.
Ferrier spent four years at UNC Charlotte, graduating this year with a degree in psychology. The 23-year-old needed 19 holes to defeat Italy’s Lorenzo Scotto, and was able to put his major to good use.
“It’s amazing how it (his major) all links to golf,” Ferrier said. “It really taught me whether it’s a 4-iron or a putt to win, it’s all the same.
“Everything about my game has gotten that little bit better. I kind of grew up. I have a lot more belief in myself. When you’re competing against the best players in college golf, it can only make you better.”
Ferrier will have to have belief in the fifth round. He plays against Stieger.
England’s Toby Tree is the only Englishman left standing. Much is riding on his 18-year-old shoulders. No Englishman has won the Amateur Championship since Gary Wolstenholme triumphed here nine years ago.
Tree, winner of this year’s Gauteng North Open in South Africa, downed GB&I Walker Cup player Rhys Pugh, 7 and 6, in the morning’s third round before dispatching Californian Tyler Raber, 2 and 1, the last American player in the field.
Auburn’s Will McCurdy lost in the third round to Scotland’s Jack McDonald, but not before taking the local boy to the 24th hole. The Englishman is a member of the England Elite Squad and highly rated as a future star. No wonder; he seems to fit the old adage of old head on young shoulders.
“There are a lot of ups and downs in this game,” Tree said. “The downs probably do more good for you than the ups.”
It will be a definite up for English golf if he were to win. And he’s old enough to celebrate with a beer in Troon should he pick up the prize.
That’s if Stieger doesn’t beat him to the bar first.