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Tait: Will the British Amateur produce a worthy winner?

Who’ll be the last man standing when the 120th Amateur Championship concludes Saturday at Carnoustie?

More importantly, will he go on to greatness?

Maybe not, if past history is anything to go by.

Winners of the Amateur Championship haven’t always lived up to expectations. Such are the vagaries of match-play golf that sometimes the player who lifts the prize isn’t always the best among the 288 entrants.

A look at recent former winners shows a mixed bag of those who found professional success and those who never really went beyond the fame of winning The Amateur.

Only one Amateur Championship winner in the past 35 years has gone on to win a major championship. Double Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal won in 1984 when he defeated Colin Montgomerie at Formby.

Four U.S. Amateur champions since 1980 – Hal Sutton, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods – have gone on to win majors.

Much has been expected of some winners in the past 35 years, most notably Phil Parkin and Gordon Sherry. Parkin won in 1983. At the Masters the following year, he had the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson marvel at his driving distance.

However, the Welshman never made it in the professional ranks. The Texas A&M Aggie’s pro career was hampered early on by marriage problems. A loss of form followed. He then suffered an eye problem that ended his career in his early 30s. Thankfully, he has reinvented himself as an excellent on-course TV commentator.

Gordon Sherry’s story is well documented. He seemed destined to go on to major-championship glory but never made the grade. Mind you, it isn’t easy when you’re burdened by unrealistic expectations.

Of those winners who turned professional, there have been a string who never found a permanent foothold on the European Tour. Among them are Christian Hardin (1988), Iain Pyman (1993), Lee James (1994), Warren Bladon (1996), Alejandro Larrazabal (2002) and Brian McElhinney (2005).

There have been success stories beyond Olazabal. Sergio Garcia is one. He won the title at Muirfield in 1998. Stephen Dodd (1989), Rolf Muntz (1990), Graeme Storm (1999), Mikko Ilonen (2000), Michael Hoey (2001), Matteo Manassero (2009) and Jin Jeong (2010) all went on to win on the European Tour.

This year’s championship isn’t as strong as it might be because of an unfortunate clash with the Palmer Cup, which has robbed Carnoustie of 10 strong Europeans and perhaps a couple of Americans who might have entered. However, there are still plenty of strong players.

World No. 3 Marcus Kinhult will be the heavy favorite after winning the Lytham Trophy in May and jointly leading the Nordea Masters after 36 holes. Canada’s Austin Connelly is also at Carnoustie. He’s the world’s eighth-best amateur.

Ryan Ruffels, the Australian Junior Boys champion who is No. 14 in the world, is in the draw. So, too, is double European Amateur champion Ashley Chesters of England, the world No. 10.

Winning Walker Cup player Jordan Niebrugge is one of 12 Americans in the field. All in all, 30 countries will be represented at Carnoustie.

So there’s lots of talent on display. Will that talent come to the fore, or will we get another surprise winner?

• • •

The Amateur Championship

What: 36 holes stroke-play qualifying, cut to 64-man match play field

When: June 15-20 (match play begins June 17)

Where: Carnoustie & Panmure

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