Ireland’s Conor PURCELL has won the Australian Men’s Amateur at Woodlands G.C. in Victoria.
He beat Nathan BARBIERI on the 37th hole of an exciting championship match after the Australian pulled an approach into the par 4 1st’s green and was unable to get up and down.
Purcell had led the Final 4 Up with 10 holes to play so having been pegged back will have been delighted to finally get the job done. His brother Gary, a tennis coach in Australia, caddied for him making it a family affair.
His victory comes with two nice playing exemptions; the ISPS Handa Vic Open (7-10 February) and the Emirates Australian Open (5-8 December).
In a nice gesture by Woodlands G.C. Conor was also awarded honorary membership of the host course at the prize giving.
Having chosen to leave the University of North Carolina, Charlotte after his sophomore year in 2018 this represents a superb start to the new season for the man from Malahide, near Dublin.
In my opinion he has now assured himself, even at this early stage, of a place in the 2019 Great Britain and Ireland 10-man Walker Cup team.
A win in 2019, a strong match play track record and a high ranking in the SPWAR tick the three main boxes I would be looking at as a selector.
As you can see from the above table this victory lifted Conor to a career high of 20th in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.
Having also reached the Semi-Finals of the 2018 Amateur Championship and Irish Amateur Close and enjoyed a winning record in last year’s Men’s Home internationals no one can question his match play credentials.
With some of the pressure now off him I expect Conor to continue to perform well this year. He can also look forward to the 2019 Amateur Championship, the most important event on the path to Walker Cup selection, being staged at his home club Portmarnock G.C. in June.
Now that our players have returned from Australia I wanted to reflect on what we had learnt in the context of the 2017 Walker Cup.
For those that don’t know a number of our leading English, Scottish and Welsh players have competed in the following elite tournaments and championships over the last four weeks: –
The Australian Master of the Amateurs (4-7 Jan)
The Australian Amateur Championship (17-22 Jan)
The Avondale Amateur (24-27 Jan)
The New South Wales Medal and Amateur Championship (30 Jan-3 Feb)
Nothing is certain in life but the selection of both Scott GREGORY (ENG) and Robert MACINTYRE (SCO) for the 2017 GB&I Walker Cup Team is increasingly looking so.
This is a big statement to make this early in the season but one that I believe is entirely justified. They both enjoy strong amateur rankings and most importantly have again demonstrated in Australia that they are unquestionably two of our leading match play exponents. Both of course were finalists in the 2016 Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl.
Scott Gregory (Photo: @ScottGregory5)
Corhampton’s Scott GREGORY saved his best golf for the last event – the New South Wales (NSW) Amateur. He qualified tied 9th in the 36-hole stroke play Medal before negotiating five rounds of match play to win the Championship, beating Marco PENGE (ENG) by 1-hole in the Final. Scott also played well in the Australian Amateur a few weeks before. He qualified tied 12th before losing his Round 3 match to medalist Kevin Yuan (AUS).
Robert MACINTYRE was on a shorter trip competing in the Australian Master of the Amateurs (AMOTA) and the Australian Amateur only. He withdrew from the AMOTA after Round 1 due to illness but fortunately recovered fully to make a great run at the Australian Amateur. Having qualified tied 20th he progressed serenely through to the semi-finals where Min Woo Lee, Australian’s reigning US Junior Amateur champion, just had too much for him on the day in a 3&1 defeat.
The other player who had a big tour was Jack SINGH BRAR (ENG). Jack has now stepped away from the England Golf coaching set up and presumably travelled out to Australia under his own steam. He didn’t play in the AMOTA but did very well in the three other events. He firstly snook into the Australian Amateur match play stage via a play off and got through to Round 3 before losing to Robbie Morrison (AUS). He was then 2nd in The Avondale Amateur with an impressive 72-hole score of -10. He finished the trip with a strong qualification in the NSW Medal (-3, tied 9th) and then progressed to the Quarter Finals where he lost by 1 hole to South Korea’s Dongmin Kim. He started the year in 270th place in the SPWAR. Today he is 85th and the 8th highest ranked GB&I player in this list. Whilst he wasn’t there a few weeks ago I am sure he must now have played his way into the selector’s minds with his string of results Down Under.
I am convinced that Marco PENGE (ENG) will have a successful Pro career simply because of his inconsistent play and positive mental attitude. When he is ‘on’ he is very good but when he is ‘off’ he can appear very average. The good thing is this appears to me to be exactly what is required in the pro game. When it’s your week you have to cash in big time and when it’s not you have to laugh it off and move on – Marco seems to do both. Penge was off the pace for much of the Tour, shooting big numbers and missing cuts. I am sure some observers were wondering what he was even doing out there. Then, almost out of nowhere he arrives at the NSW Amateur and plays beautifully. He qualified tied 3rd on -6 before battling his way through the match play stage and ultimately losing the close Final with Gregory. So he arrives back in the UK ranked 75th in the SPWAR, up about 60 places, and 7th in the GB&I ranking – job done. I hope he can find some more consistency back in Europe as this will help to secure the selector’s trust and perhaps cement a team spot. If not then establishing which Marco is going to turn up in Los Angeles will be difficult for them and make his inclusion something of a gamble.
Before finishing off this article I wanted to mention Evan GRIFFITH (WAL). He once again found Australia to his liking. Having reached the semi-finals of the Australian Amateur last year he once again played very well; this year reaching the quarter-finals. Let’s hope that in 2017 he can follow up this latest performance down under with a few Top 10’s back in Europe.
Other GB&I Walker Cup squad players to compete in Australia included David BOOTE (WAL), Owen EDWARDS (WAL), Bradley MOORE (ENG) and Alfie PLANT (ENG). All had their moments without necessarily playing at their very best.
Irrespective of whether their Walker Cup selection is now as certain as I suggest I am sure we can all agree to congratulate Scott and Robert for maintaining their form and competitiveness through our early winter and for delivering some good results in Australia.