Six Australians and five New Zealanders will compete in the 116th British Amateur Championship this week at Hillside and Hesketh Golf Clubs in northern England.
The Australian contingent includes Ryan McCarthy, Brett Drewitt, Matt Stieger, Bryden MacPherson, Kalem Richardson and Chris Wood. Ben Campbell spearheads the New Zealand effort following a 6th place finish last week at the St Andrews Links which sees Campbell back inside the world top-10.
Matt Stieger with a world ranking of 8 and Campbell are the only Australasians currently inside the world's top-10.
They will be among the 288 world-ranked amateur golfers from 35 countries competing for the coveted British Amateur trophy, a place in this year's British Open Championship and an invitation to the 2012 Masters Tournament.
The British Amateur field is therefore naturally littered with Europe's best, as well as players from South Africa, USA, Argentina and Canada.
The last four British Boys Amateur Champions are also due to compete. Spaniards Adrian Otaegui (2010) and Emilio Cuartero (2007) will play, along with Pedro Figuiredo (2008) and England's Tom Lewis, who enters this championship in stellar form after winning the St Andrews Links Trophy last weekend in Scotland.
In 2010 Lewis was England's top-ranked player and secured a second place among the professionals in the New South Wales Open last December. He also took medallist honours at the Australian Open that summer as the top amateur and made the cut to win the Silver medal at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year.
Lewis is a world class player and after securing his first main amateur stroke win at St Andrews, which added to the world number 3's British Boys' and English Boy's title in 2009, the 20 year-old is considered one of the players to beat at these championships.
Others to follow include England's Andrew Sullivan and Jack Senior.
Sullivan recently won the Scottish Open Amateur and is a winner of more than six main amateur tournaments in the UK during the last two years, including twice winning the Midland Open Amateur title and was the 2010 champion at the Hampshire Salver.
This Australian summer Sullivan toured down under with the strong English contingent where he won the NSW Amateur Medal, was runner-up to Tarquin McManus at the Master of the Amateurs at Royal Melbourne and had another runner-up finish against fellow countryman, Jack Senior at the NSW Amateur Championships back in March.
A tenacious competitor, should Sullivan make the sweet 64 after Tuesday's stroke qualification, he'll take some stopping at these championships.
As will Senior who comes across as a quiet, yet methodical player, but who's very apt of getting the job done as he demonstrated with his 3&2 victory over Sullivan at the NSW Amateur championship. Senior has numerous wins to his credit with the 2010 Egyptian Amateur and South of England Amateur.
In its 126 year history, the British Amateur has evaded Australian hands for the last 57 years, although Tim Stewart in 2007 went ever so close narrowly going down to Drew Weaver at Royal Lytham & St Annes, 2&1.
Douglas Bachli was the last Australian to claim the title in 1954 at Muirfield, while Jim Ferrier in 1936 was defeated in the championship final.
Hopefully things will change this week for the six Australians competing, all of whom have the game to challenge this international field.
Ryan McCarthy is due for a solid tournament after being sidelined with a shoulder injury following a surfing incident at Redhead Beach during the Lake Macquarie Amateur in January.
McCarthy's experience is a factor that never should be underestimated in main international events like the British Amateur. McCarthy's international credits include a top-16 finish at last year's US Amateur at at Chambers Bay and he secured numerous top-20 finishes in main US amateur events during the 2010 season, including strong results at the Porter Cup, Southern Amateur and Dogwood Invitational.
McCarthy starts these championships knowing it will be a challenge, yet he'd rather be in the thick of the action, than be sidelined and watching from outside the ropes.
"To tell you, it's being a little frustrating lately," says McCarthy, who returned to the game at last month's Keperra Bowl and only played his second main amateur tournament last week at the St Andrews Links Trophy.
"It's great to be back out playing again. We are all just men, so playing against a world class field like we have this week does not phase me anymore. I'm not afraid with what the others players offer. I can control my game, I've got all my bases to cover, find my rhythm and see how that places me in the tournament. Hopefully, I can gain some momentum and see where that takes me this week."
When it comes to links golf and the ability to adjust to the varying conditions the current Australian Amateur champion and world number eight Matt Stieger is a specialist.
During the last eighteen months Stieger has made his mark on the world amateur circuit with strong performances both locally and internationally. This Australian season he was a winner of two national selection events with the Tasmanian Open and the Australian Amateur Championship as well as the Western Australian Amateur. Add to the mix two runner-up finishes at the Riversdale Cup and Keperra Bowl and his international win at the Pacific North West Amateur last year in April you begging to appreciate Stieger's consistency in main events.
Stieger along with the other Australasians have tested the Hillside and Hesketh layouts in preparation for the championships and like what they see.
"The courses are tricky off the tee, but once you get it in play you can really put a score together," says Stieger.
"The back nine around Hillside is very challenging and Greg Norman's comments of them being best back nine in Britain seems to be correct. Hesketh, however, is more a thinking man's course where you need to use a lot of irons from the tee, yet the greens seem to be receptive enough. The greens are becoming quicker as the tourney starts and they will be rolling at around eleven I say by Monday."
Ben Campbell is another who likes what he sees with the presentation of the two courses.
"The courses are certainly challenging," says Campbell who's off a top-10 finish at the St Andrews Links Trophy against a similar field to that playing this week.
"Playing over here has shown me which parts of my game I need to work on if I wish to make it to the next step. Even though my putting cost me last week at St Andrews, I feel as though this is getting better and if I stay patient and keep working on my process it will get to where I want it to be. I gave myself some very good opportunities at St Andrews and I'm feeling confident with my game. We'll see how it unfolds as anything is possible should you make the top-64."
It will be worth also keeping a close eye on US based Aussie, Bryden MacPherson who thrives in bigger events.
MacPherson can go low around a links layout, like his sizzling course record 63 at The Dunes during his maiden National Trial win at the 2008 Dunes Medal. He's won main amateur titles including the 2009 Australian and New Zealand Amateur stroke events and knows what's needed to win. MacPherson returned to Australia back in March to compete at the Australian Amateur, qualifying for the match play segment only to have his championship cut short in the semi finals by Stieger.
Like England's Andy Sullivan, MacPherson is a tenacious competitor who easily gets fired up to nail a course when his game is hot. Should MacPherson survive the qualification rounds, I tend to favour his chances that he'll strongly perform at this British Amateur.
Brett Drewitt is another to follow, particularly should he progress to the match play segment of this event.
Drewitt's match play record is impressive having won the US Pacific North West Amateur, as well as the Queensland Amateur, and after claiming his first main amateur stroke title at the Golf SA Classic just before leaving to the UK, his confidence remains on a high.
The qualification stroke-play stage of the British Amateur will be played on Monday and Tuesday (June 13-14) at Hillside GC and Hesketh GC. The top 64 players with ties reach the final match-play stage over four days (June 15-18) at Hillside Golf Club.
Last year Aussie based Korean, Jin Jeong, captured a 5&4 win over Scotland's James Byrne in the 36-hole final at Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland. Jeong has since turned professional and is currently based in the US playing on sponsor's invites and the various feeder tours on the demanding US circuit.
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