The 2017 PGA Tour season has already seen a majority of 20-somethings win the early events, and the emerging talent has come from successful amateur careers. So, where will the next big things come from?
Well, there must be something in the water “Down Under” apart from champion swimmers, sharks and lethal jellyfish. Australia has generated another swag of impressive amateurs moving through its ranks, and a chap called Curtis Luck is leading the charge. With a name like that we figure he will get more than his fair share of good bounces, ricochets and lip-ins.
Luck played so well in 2016 that he snagged berths in three of the four Major’s that year. Word on the street suggests that his outing at Augusta will be his last as an amateur and he will forego his automatic entry passes to the British and U.S. Open by turning professional. A desire to secure his PGA player’s card is taking precedence over a guaranteed start at both these events, and probably rightly so. This is an exceptional opportunity for a young man to make his mark relatively quickly.
The 20-year-old from the Western Australian city of Perth had dad Stuart on the bag when he secured the Masters entrée by winning the U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills, California last August. A quick peek at the other names etched onto that trophy highlight the significance of the win. Tiger had three consecutive wins from 1994 through 1996. Luck won the match play final six and four over Oklahoma’s Brad Dalke. Good luck to him!
The top-ranked American amateur, 21-year-old Maverick McNealy is likely to turn down the opportunity to turn pro as he hopes to follow his dad, founder of Sun Microsystems, into business. Currently the world’s number one ranked amateur, McNealy faces a dilemma that many can only dream of — the prospect of making more money off the Tour than on it! Still, McNealy hasn’t made the decision yet, and the PGA Tour may be difficult to say no to.
Joaquin Niemann is the other young amateur on the brink of making a move. While only 19, his impressive 3rd ranking on the world Rolex amateur list, as well as a string of wins in the past 12 months, is worthy of mention. The Chilean began playing college golf at the University of South Florida this year, which will provide him with terrific training for his likely move to the pro scene. His back-to-back wins at the IMG Junior World Championship in July, as well as a fine performance in the Argentina Open with a 73, 66, 73, 72 scorecard, are outstanding for someone so young.
On the LPGA Tour, watch out for a pair of Irish women powering their way through the amateur events this year. Leona Maguire secured the Mark H. McCormack Medal in 2015 and again in 2016 as the top ranking female amateur. Her Olympic team selection for Ireland, as well as a stellar performance to help Great Britain & Ireland win the Curtis Cup, was on top of taking home the Smyth Salver for the leading amateur in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn Golf and Country Club in 2016. Currently attending Duke, where her GPA is as good as her golf, she got as far as stage III of the LPGA Q-School only to declare that her intention is to graduate first and turn pro early in 2018. Watch this space.
Compatriot Olivia Mehaffey is on the verge of busting out of the amateur ranks this year. She won the Irish Women’s Open and Welsh Ladies Open Stroke Play Championships and finished runner-up in the Scottish Ladies Open Championship. Like Maguire, she proved difficult to beat in the Curtis Cup, and is one to be watched in 2017. No doubt her current residency and attendance at Arizona State University will enhance her future opportunities.
Of particular note in the women’s amateur race is the lack of representation from South Korean amateurs. Their professional dominance over the last decade has helped produce a stable of players who consistently populate the top 20 in any given event. So the rise of European and American women dominating the amateur rankings and taking the medals is a refreshing shift. We have to congratulate these up and coming youngsters. Their level of play and progress does not happen overnight, and the immense commitment to training and playing on top of ambitious study regimes reflects a maturity well beyond their years. We look forward to watching their emergence into the professional ranks.
— N. Incoll