2004: Our Opinion - Amateurs take center stage

The Curtis Cup Match, one of the great spectacles of amateur golf, gets under way June 12 at Formby Golf Club in England. Thanks to the presence of Michelle Wie on the American side, the 33rd edition of the Curtis Cup likely will command far more media attention than any of its predecessors.

That’s a good thing, for the Curtis Cup is rich in history, if not drama. The Match dates to 1932, when an American team captained by Marion Hollins crossed the Atlantic to play at Wentworth, England, against a Great Britain & Ireland squad captained by Joyce Wethered. The big gun for the United States was Glenna Collett Vare; leading GB&I was Enid Wilson.

Over the years, Curtis Cup participants have included Patty Berg, JoAnne (Gunderson) Carner, Judy Bell, Hollis Stacy, Carol Semple Thompson, Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Dottie Pepper, Cristie Kerr, Mhairi McKay, Kelli Kuehne, Janice Moodie, Catriona Matthew and Beth Bauer. The list of notables is heavily skewed toward the American side, which leads the series 23-6-3 and has sent far more professionals into the ranks of the LPGA.

(It’s interesting to note that the all-male Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, Scotland, twice has played host to the Curtis Cup, in 1952 and 1984.)

The Curtis Cup will be played on the heels of the men’s British Amateur Championship at St. Andrews Old Course in Scotland. The competition has been rolled into two weeks of festivities marking the 250th anniversary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

The British Amateur Championship winner, incidentally, will figure prominently in the next installment of the Golfweek British Amateur Ranking that debuts in this issue (see page 2).

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the amateur season begins in earnest June 10 with the first round of the Sunnehanna Amateur in Johnstown, Pa. It figures to be an interesting year, with many top college players opting to turn professional immediately after the NCAA Division I Men’s Championships – or sometime in the summer. That list includes Casey Wittenberg, who is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Titleist Amateur Ranking, and reigning U.S. Amateur champion Nick Flanagan of Australia (ranked No. 5). Others in the top 10 headed for the play-for-pay ranks are Matt Hendrix, Brock Mackenzie, Gregg Jones, Bill Haas and Justin Smith.

No. 2 Lee Williams, who took the unusual step of redshirting during his fourth year at Auburn in order to compete as a fifth-year senior, is the cream of the remaining amateur crop.

All of which bodes well for top mid-amateurs such as Trip Kuehne (No. 20), Danny Green (T-22) and George Zahringer (T-22). Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, however, is nursing a shoulder injury.

Indeed, there’s never a dull moment in the amateur game. When the last British Amateur putt has dropped at St. Andrews, all eyes will turn to Formby to see how the 14-year-old Wie performs in her first international match-play event. She’s a rising star, to be sure, but it’s a good bet that equally compelling newcomers of both sexes will move to the forefront in coming weeks.

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