Tait's Take: Memo to British Amateur champion, 'Make sure you have a plan B'

David Cannon/ALLSPORT

Tait's Take: Memo to British Amateur champion, 'Make sure you have a plan B'

Euro Tour

Tait's Take: Memo to British Amateur champion, 'Make sure you have a plan B'

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A new British Amateur champion will be crowned on Saturday at Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin. It’ll be a huge moment in a young man’s life, opening doors to a whole new world of experiences, privilege and potential riches beyond his wildest dreams.

However, chances are winning the British Amateur may just turn out to be the highlight of said winner’s career. Most champions have not lived up to the hype they created by emerging as the last man standing out of the 288-man field.

Lest anyone think I’m accentuating the negative like some cynical hack, the facts are there for all to see. The majority of British Amateur champions don’t go on to fame and glory.

A look at winners since 1983, the year 36-hole qualifying was introduced to determine match play contestants, backs up my claim. Of the 34 champions, only nine of the 31 who turned professional went on to win on the European Tour – Jose Maria Olazabal (1984), Stephen Dodd (1989), Rolf Muntz (1990), Sergio Garcia (1998), Graeme Storm (1999), Mikko Ilonen (2000), Michael Hoey (2001), Matteo Manassero (2009) and Jin Jeong (2010). Olazabal and Garcia are the only former champions to two win majors.

Gordon Sherry of Scotland
reacts as he makes a birdie putt on the 17th hole during the final round of the 1995 Walker Cup.
(ALLSPORT UK/ALLSPORT)

Four winners had the good sense to stay in the amateur game, realizing they didn’t have the talent to compete on the European Tour – Garth McGimpsey (1985), Craig Watson (1997), Gary Wolstenholme 1991 & 2003) and Stuart Wilson (2004). McGimpsey and Watson have been Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup captains, while Wilson is sure to join them. Wolstenholme turned professional once he turned 50 and has three wins on the European Senior Tour.

We obviously have to cut recent champions some slack since they’ve just started their professional careers. However, none really look like world beaters at this point.

Many former champions fit into the “whatever happened to” category. Some tried to make the grade on European fairways and failed so miserably they soon quit banging their heads against tournament walls. Christian Hardin (1988), Stephen Dundas (1992), Gordon Sherry (1995), Warren Bladon (1996) Alejandro Larrazabal (2002), Brian McElhinney (2005), Alan Dunbar (2012) all failed badly once they turned pro. Larrazabal ended up getting his amateur status back and played last year at Royal Aberdeen and at Portmarnock this week, failing to advance to the match play rounds on each occasion. He’s been more use to younger brother Pablo as his manager. Pablo, who caddied for Alejandro in the 2002 final, has won four European Tour events.

Gordon Sherry is perhaps the biggest disappointment – pardon the pun – of recent champions. The 6-foot, 9-inch Scot was runner up in 1994 and then won the following year. He finished fourth in the 1995 Scottish Open as an amateur, and made the cut in that year’s Open Championship. He signed big endorsement deals when he turned pro, with companies expecting him to be Scotland’s next Sandy Lyle. He didn’t even come close to his hype. Sherry played just 26 European tournaments and quit tour pro life in 2004.

So this year’s British Amateur champion should enjoy the moment. He should relish the chance to play in the Open Championship, Masters and U.S. Open. He should give it his utmost to make it in the pro ranks– and I hope he does. He just needs to make sure he has a plan B. Odds are he’ll need it.

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