2004: Competition - Wilson’s precision a British Am weapon

St. Andrews, Scotland

The British Amateur Championship in recent years has not proved much of a breeding ground for future major champions. This year’s winner, Stuart Wilson, might continue that trend.

Wilson defeated England’s Lee Corfield, 4 and 3, in the 36-hole final June 5 played over the Old Course at St. Andrews to become the fifth Scot since World War II to win the game’s oldest amateur title. He is the first Scottish golfer to win the trophy since Craig Watson defeated Trevor Immelman in the 1997 final at Royal St. George’s, and the first Scotsman to win at the Old Course since Hector Thompson in 1936.

“I thought this might be my year because I like it around this course,” said Wilson, who has played the Old Course many times, and finished second there in the 1999 St. Andrews Links Trophy. “I was always confident. It’s always good to come to a place you like and know so well.”

British Amateur champions or finalists have won a grand total of two major championships since World War II, compared with 43 for U.S. Amateur champions in the same period.

Only Jose Maria Olazabal has managed to parlay his 1984 victory into major success. Olazabal’s two Masters victories, in 1994 and 1999, represent the only major victories by winners of the British Amateur in 58 years.

Most British Amateur champions fade into obscurity, never to be seen or heard from again. Normally they come under that “whatever happened to . . . ” category.

Stephen Dundas, 1992 winner, was last seen picking range balls at Doha Golf Club in Qatar. Lee James (1994) and Gordon Sherry (1995) have struggled on mini-tours since winning. Warren Bladon (1996) now runs a liquor store in Birmingham, England.

At least Wilson has no pretensions of life as a professional golfer. Wilson, 26, is the manager of Auchterlonie’s Golf Shop in Monifieth, near Dundee. Wilson helped Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup at Ganton last year compiling a 1-1-2 record as the home side took a historic third consecutive title.

One reason Wilson won’t chase the millions on the PGA European Tour is his lack of length off the tee. However, what he lacks in distance he more than makes up for in accuracy. Like Gary Wolstenholme, last year’s champion, Wilson’s game is based on hitting fairways and greens allied to a good short game. He used those skills to great advantage against Corfield.

At times Wilson was 60 yards behind Corfield off the tee. While Corfield tried to power his way around the course, Wilson was content to keep it in play and rely on par golf to help him to the title.

The move paid off. Wilson was playing his approach shot first for most of the final, which meant he was able to apply pressure on Corfield by forcing the Englishman to try to land his golf ball inside Wilson’s. Corfield failed to do that most of the time and also suffered his worst putting round of the year.

The 21-year-old England International three-putted four of the first five greens of the morning round to give Wilson an early 3-up lead. The Scot never trailed in the match, and was never less than two holes ahead throughout most of the final.

Corfield, this year’s West of England champion, spent much of the half-hour lunch break receiving a putting lesson from coach Stuart Martin, but even that could not cure his putting woes. He missed a number of putts in the afternoon that could have turned the match around.

“That was hell today,” Corfield said. “I didn’t feel comfortable all day. I just couldn’t pick the lines on the greens to hit the putts on. I gave him an early three-hole start and he’s too good a player to do that to.”

Corfield aims to turn pro at the end of the year, while Wilson can look forward to a spot in the British Open at Royal Troon and a place in the Masters next April.

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