July 26, 2011
Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Shane Bacon take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by writing firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit us on Twitter at @jaybusbee and @shanebacon. Today we kick around the question of whether amateur golfers are as good as they think they are.
Busbee: You've surely heard the boasts by a couple amateurs that they could play as well as the pros if only they had the chances. Shane, as the best amateur I know, what's your response to this? Could amateurs hang with the pros? Is it just a matter of experience and reps, not talent?
Bacon: Well, there are amateurs and then there are amateurs, and elite college players like Harrison English and John Peterson are obviously more talented than the two-handicap at your local club. That said, there have been a TON of good college players, even great ones, that never sniffed the PGA Tour.
So, yes, it's a cute idea, and amateurs can be great players, but professional golfers are pros for a reason, and any of these college kids would give their interlock grips to be able to pull in the type of money even the 50th guy on the PGA Tour money list does.
I'll also point you to one of my favorite quotes ever, by Mr. Craig Stadler, who told this to an All-American college kid bragging about his accolades on a driving range some years ago - "You see the guy next to you? And the guy next to him? Every one of them, All-Americans. There's an NCAA Champion, a U.S. Amateur champion, a British Open champion -- hell, some of these caddies were All-Americans. So just so you know, nobody here gives a damn if you're an All-American, or if you even to college at all. All anybody here here wants to know ... can you play stick?" - Craig Stadler, to a young All-American bragging about his accolades on a driving range."
I don't see it, but I do see them playing well during a week's stretch. Is this just a sign that golf is all over the map right now, and literally anyone can win if they catch fire?
Busbee: But hasn't it always been that way, except for when You-Know-Who was at his prime? I mean, one of golf's fundamental legends is the story of Francis Ouimet, the guy who came from out of nowhere to win the US Open. And that's the eternal promise of "Opens," that anybody can come from nowhere and win it all.
That said, you're exactly right that there's a huge difference between talent and achievement, and a huge difference between achievement once and achievement over a career. It's sobering to think that so much talent falls by the wayside because of one bad break or two.
So, now you're away...do you think these kids should've talked like this? Are they setting themselves up for grief for years from now on?
Bacon: Ehh, you know the youth these days; cocky, full of themselves, and playing some of the best golf of their lives. I understand that winning a Nationwide Tour event is a HUGE deal, since the talent is fringe-clippings different than that on the PGA Tour, but to say you're better than the best of the best isn't exactly earning you any points.
These kids will have to go through the pro rungs, and I'm sure learn how to play professional golf when you actually are competing for gas money and status, but for now, they can ride this wave since they did play so well.
But my question for you is this; with the way Patrick Cantlay has played this season, and the way Chris Wood played at the British 2008 Open Championship, will we ever see an amateur win a major championship?
Busbee: I think it'll happen, but it'll have to be the perfect confluence of player and circumstances. In today's hypermedia world (stupid media!) if you've got an amateur leading all four days, he'll probably crack; what's more likely is he plays like Tom Lewis did early in the British Open, then puts on a Sunday charge for the ages.
Shoot, in the last 11 majors we've had everything from miracle playoff wins to last-second putting yips to stretch-run charges, and while no major win is ever a "gift," there were guys in the mix (Angel Cabrera and Stewart Cink, we're glancing your way) who were beneficiaries of others' miscues. There's no reason why an amateur couldn't play himself into that Sunday-afternoon position. And you, sir?
Bacon: As we've learned in post-Tiger golf, never say never (looking at you, Tom Watson), but I think your scenario is the ONLY conceivable way that this could happen. Someone five back in absolutely brutal conditions posting a 70 and winning two hours before the leaders finish. So, is the British Open the only major this could happen at? I really think so.
If we've learned one thing this year about amateurs, it's this: they're really not scared of pros anymore.
All right, your turn. Can amateurs hang with the pros?