Very few people had heard of Patrick Cantlay this time last year. Now he’s well established as the world’s number one amateur. His 2011 exploits top a glorious year for amateur golf.
Cantlay not only won the 2011 Mark H McCormack Medal as leading player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, he didn’t look out of place amongst the professionals. The Californian was low amateur at the US Open, finishing in 21st place. He posted a 60 in the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour on his way to finishing in 24th place. He had four top 25s in the four professional events he played.
England’s Tom Lewis did his best to match Cantlay’s feat with his performance in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s. His opening 65 set a record as lowest score by an amateur, and earned him a share of the first round lead, the first amateur to do so since Sir Michael Bonallack in 1968. After helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup, Lewis turned pro and won the Portugal Masters in only his third professional start.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, number four on the WAGR table, successfully defended his Asian Amateur Championship title to set up a return appearance in the Masters. Matsuyama finished 27th in this year’s Masters, the only amateur to make the cut. He also proved he can play with the professionals by winning the Japan Tour’s Taiheiyo Masters.
Australia’s Bryden Macpherson joins Matsuyama at next year’s Masters after victory in the Amateur Championship at Hillside. The world number 44 became only the second Australian winner since Doug Bachli in 1954.
The Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen saw an underdog GB&I team defeat arguably the strongest United States team ever assembled. GB&I won for the first time in four meetings despite the US containing the world’s top four players.
If the 2011 season is any indication, then amateur golf aficionados have much to look forward to in 2012.
Anyone choosing a player to dominate the women’s amateur game in 2011 might not have looked as far afield as New Zealand, nor might they have chosen a 14-year-old.
Lydia Ko led the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking for much of the season, becoming the first recipient of the Mark H McCormack medal as the leading amateur in the women’s game.
Among Ko’s accomplishments in 2011 were victories in the Australian and New Zealand Stroke Play Championships, the first player to win both titles in the same season. She also won four other amateur tournaments in her homeland. In three professional tournaments she posted a 2nd in the NSW Open, 4th in the Pegasus NZ Women’s Open and 12th in the Handa Australian Open.
Sixteen-year-old Lauren Taylor did her best to follow in Ko’s footsteps with her historic victory in the Ladies’ British Amateur Championship. Taylor became the youngest winner when she lifted the title at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland. She finished the year as world number 20.
South Africans Kim Williams and Iliska Verway hinted at big things for the years to come. They hold second and fourth place respectively on the WAGR table.
Northern Ireland’s women amateurs did their best to emulate the feats of major winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke. Stephanie Meadow closed out the year as the world’s fifth best amateur. The native of Jordanstown, Northern Ireland, set a record at the University of Alabama with her fourth college victory, the most by a woman in Alabama history. Meanwhile, Leona Maguire finished the year at world number seven.
Austin Ernst of the United States closed out 2011 sixth on the WAGR table, not bad for a player who began the 2010-11 college season struggling to get into the Louisiana State University team. Yet Ernst won in February and then won the NCAA Championship. Another victory in the autumn proved she is worthy of her spot in the WAGR top 10.