59 watch: Alfie Plant resurfaces at Saudi International before faltering late

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59 watch: Alfie Plant resurfaces at Saudi International before faltering late

Euro Tour

59 watch: Alfie Plant resurfaces at Saudi International before faltering late

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If there’s one positive to be taken from the European Tour’s controversial decision to stage the $3.5 million Saudi International, it’s the decision to extend invitations to promising young players. Australia’s Min Woo Lee and Englishmen Alfie Plant, Matthew Jordan and Todd Clements are among the six invitees.

Plant has grasped the opportunity with both hands. He returned an opening 5-under 65 and was two shots off Thomas Pieters’ lead when the early starters finished their rounds on the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

Plant, who started on the 10th tee, kicked off his round with seven birdies in his first nine holes. He was on 59 watch after going to the turn in 28 shots.

“I didn’t realize I was on 28 until I’ve just come in,” the 26-year-old said. “I’ve never shot 28 before on the front nine or back nine.”

Bogeys on two of his last four knocked him off the top of the leaderboard.

Remember Alfie Plant? He’s the guy who took the silver medal as leading amateur in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He earned his spot from winning the 2017 European Amateur Championship.

A large gallery of family and friends wearing #Team Alfie T-shirts followed Plant around the Birkdale links. The affable Englishman carried a message on his golf bag that said: “Do it for Nan.” It was a reminder of his great grandmother Joyce, who had passed away the previous week.

“Every time I looked at the bag I got a gentle reminder,” Plant said. “She was definitely with me this week.”

No wonder Plant garnered a lot of column inches.

The man from South East London went on to appear in the 2017 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team that lost 19-7 at Los Angeles Country Club. Plant lost both his matches. He failed to make it through to Final Stage of European Tour Qualifying School, and spent last year on the European Challenge Tour. He made three cuts from 10 starts, earning just $8,745. He’s made eight starts on the main tour since Birkdale, and played all four rounds twice. He faces another season on the Challenge Tour after another Q School failure at the end of last year.

Plant’s 65 in King Abdullah Economic City is his first decent achievement since his T62 at Birkdale.

Winning the silver medal can be a stepping stone to success. World No. 1 Justin Rose won silver at Royal Birkdale in 1998 after finishing fourth. Other silver medallists who became major champions include Hal Sutton (1981), Jose Maria Olazabal (1985), Tiger Woods (1996) and Rory McIlroy (2007).

The silver medal can also be a curse. Scotland’s Lloyd Saltman seemed a star in the making after finishing T15 in the 2005 Open, but has never found a foothold on the European Tour. Sir Michael Bonallack tipped Warren Bennett as a future star when the Englishman finished leading amateur in 1994. Although he won the 1999 Scottish PGA Championship, Bennett never came close to fulfilling Bonallack’s prediction.

It’s less than two years since Plant’s moment in the Birkdale sun; far too early to predict his future. His next three rounds in Saudi Arabia might give us a clue as to whether he’s headed down the Rose or Saltman path.

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