With New Zealand’s Danny Lee beating a world-class professional field at the Johnnie Walker Classic last weekend, the strength of the World Amateur Golf Ranking in identifying rare talent was again proven. A look back at the achievements of Lee, and of previous WAGR number ones, further fortifies the point.
Since winning the 2008 US Amateur, where he supplanted Tiger Woods as the youngest winner in the event’s history, Danny Lee has spent 28 weeks at the top of the amateur game. His victory in Australia makes him the youngest ever player, and only the second amateur, to win on the European Tour. Lee plans to turn professional after April’s Masters Tournament and looks set for a career at the very highest level of the game.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who occupied first position in the Ranking for one week in February 2007, is already achieving great things in only his second full season on Tour. Since turning professional McIlroy, 19, has made rapid progress up the Official World Golf Ranking to become the youngest player ever to break into the top twenty. Currently the world number 17, the Ulsterman has had four top-five finishes this year including a win at the Dubai Desert Classic, which put him in his current position of second in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Englishman, Danny Willett, has also made an excellent start to his professional career. Willett spent twelve weeks at the top of the amateur ranking before finishing the final stage of the European Tour’s Qualifying School in an impressive 4th position after six rounds that included an 8 under-par 63 in the third. Since earning his full Tour card, Willett has performed well, registering two top-tens in his first four events of 2009. The twenty-one-year-old from Sheffield currently lies in 49th position in the Race to Dubai.
Richie Ramsay was the World Amateur Golf Ranking’s first number one when it was launched in January 2007. A 2005 GB&I Walker Cup team member, in 2006 Ramsay became the first Scotsman to win the US Amateur since Findlay Douglas in 1898. Turning professional soon after, the former R&A Scholar has made steady progress and has graduated from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour after completing the 2008 season in the top ten thanks, in part, to two victories.
Playing full PGA Tour golf this year is the USA’s Colt Knost, winner of the inaugural Mark McCormack Medal, presented by The R&A to the year’s best amateur golfer. In 2007 Knost won both the US Amateur and the US Amateur Public Links as well as playing in that year’s victorious Walker Cup team. After a successful 2008 season on the PGA Nationwide Tour during which he won twice and finished 6th on the Money List, Knost has had one top-25 result on Tour after the first four events of 2009.
From the remaining four, Michael Thompson and Jamie Moul are the only other WAGR number ones to have turned professional. Runner-up in 2007’s US Amateur, Thompson made the cut at the US Open last year, finishing tied 29th. The 23-year-old’s best professional result to date is tied 28th at the PGA Tour’s 2008 Texas Open. For Moul, a 2007 GB&I Walker Cup player, 2008 was spent playing Challenge and full European Tour events with his best result, tied 6th, coming at the Russian Open.
The final two, Rickie Fowler and Jamie Lovemark, both of whom played for the USA in the 2007 Walker Cup, still remain amateurs. Fowler spent 33 consecutive weeks at the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking, the most of any player to date. In 2008 he made the cut at Torrey Pines – starting the second day in 7th position – and was the first freshman to win the Ben Hogan Award, which recognises the year’s best college golfer. Lovemark, 2007 NCAA Champion, is shortlisted for the award this year.