Four young, English players had the biggest week of their burgeoning careers when they took part in the Open last week.
Three were members of England Golf’s elite development squads, while the fourth was given assistance by the governing body.
In this feature, we give a blow-by-blow account of how they got on.
The amateurs were:
Ashley Chesters, 26, Hawkestone Park, Shropshire.
Became the first player to successfully defend the European Amateur Championship in 2014, and in doing so booked himself an immediate return to the Open.
Ben Taylor, 23, Walton Heath, Surrey.
NCAA champion in U.S. College gold, while studying at Louisiana State University
Paul Kinnear, 21, Formby, Lancashire.
T3 at the Brabazon 2015 in June
Alister Balcombe, 19, Clevedon, Somerset.
Twice crowned Clevedon club champion and won club’s junior championship three times.
July 15: Practice rounds and preparation
Open preparations for amateurs vary greatly from that of the professionals, as they organise their own accommodation and transportation, which their amateur status decrees they must pay for themselves.
Balcombe’s Open preparations are the stuff of fantasy as he plays a practice round with Tom Watson and Brandt Snedeker.
“They were very generous and I thanked them for all their advice during the round, said Balcombe. “I feel pretty confident, instead of nervous. It’s pretty cool to be here, my first time in St Andrews.
“I’m more laid back than I thought I would be. I thought I would be going pretty crazy but I sort of feel comfortable on the range.”
July 16: Round One
An explosive start by Kinnear sees him six-under par after 11 holes. A double bogey at the 17th will prove costly, but an opening 70 leaves him the right side of the projected cut mark.
He said: “I think it was the 4th hole and I looked up and I seen Spieth was 6-under through 12, and I thought, I’d love to obviously be up there. Maybe didn’t put a number on it, but I’d have loved to have seen my name on it, and I had three birdies in a row, and then birdied 11, as well, which was really, really good, and then I was pumped, and obviously seen a leaderboard on the 12th green and seen my name was up with them. It was just a fantastic feeling.”
For Taylor, a back nine which featured a six and an eight on the 16th and 17th leads to a total of 82 after the first day, a disastrous start.
Balcombe shoots a double bogey on the fourth, then a birdie and a bogey even each other out on the back nine. He finishes with a 2-over 74.
A strong start for Chesters features an eagle at the 10th hole. He drops four shots on the last three holes for a weak finish, but still signs off at one-under par.
‘I seen my a leaderboard on the 12th green and seen my name was up with them’ July 17: Round Two
A bogey and a birdie for Balcombe in the first holes is a solid start, but a double and two more bogeys on the back nine leave him at six-over par.
Taylor starts his second round strongly with two birdies in the first four holes, but is unable to make up the ground. Finishes with a birdie on the 18th to leave him sandwiched between Faldo, Calcavecchio and Tom Watson at the foot of the leaderboard.
Taylor said: “There’s a feeling of letting people down when you’ve played so poorly. But the best thing about teeing it up here is making me realise that I can compete with these guys. I know I’m hitting it as well as them. They just know how to score better. I’ve got to keep plugging away and keep believing. Eventually I’ll be here competing in future tournaments.”
Chesters plays his second round to level par, meaning he makes the cut and will play all four days. It’s an incredible achievement for the Shropshire amateur who missed out on the cut by a single shot last year.
July 18: Round Two conclusion (wind-affected)
It’s a late finish for Taylor, who doesn’t get off the course until after 9pm, despite teeing off for the day at 7am. He’s understandably exhausted, and another dropped shot on 17th leaves him 2-over par. After such a strong start he’s disappointed to miss the cut, but can take pride in his efforts.
“I found it really hard today,” said Kinnear. “Getting here at half five, preparing to go and not being able to stand up because it’s 50 mile an hour winds. But I kept fighting and believing I could do it every step of the way.
“I’m devastated to miss the cut, but it was a great experience and hopefully we will get to play in many of these. I am really proud of the way I played – to get four hours sleep and play like that, I am really proud of myself.”
Of the four amateurs, Chesters is the only one to make it through to the final two rounds.
July 19: Round Three
Chesters really hits his stride and hits two birdies in the first three holes, before shooting an eagle on the fifth hole, his second of the week.
A bogey on the 17th is the only blemish on his card and he signs off with 67, leaving him 7-under par. However, with Paul Dunne leading the entire Open at 12-under par, he still has a lot of work to do to win the Silver Medal.
“The first two days I didn’t actually feel pressure,” he said. “But for some reason this morning I didn’t hit the ball very well on the range, which didn’t help, so for the first hole I was definitely a bit shaky. It was more like when I played the first round last year rather than the first two days, but I don’t know whether that was just the fact I hadn’t hit the ball very well on the range or the fact that I hadn’t played the third round of a major before. But I hit it close in the second and then after that the nerves went.”
July 20: Round Four
With Paul Dunne slipping under the pressure of leading the Open overnight, there’s an opportunity for Chesters to leapfrog him. His third blemish-free front nine of the week brings him within touching distance of the overall lead, but like the rest of the field he finds conditions tougher on the way back in and a double bogey on the 15th ends his challenge.
Chesters is tied for 12th overall, alongside fellow amateur Oliver Schniederjans, but incredibly neither has won the Silver Medal. That honour goes to American Jordan Niebrugge, who sits two shots ahead, while overnight leader Paul Dunne slips to 30th place.
Last year, Chesters was the highest ranked amateur, tied for 73rd. This year, five amateurs made the cut, with Niebrugge becoming the first amateur since Chris Wood in 2008 to finish within the top 10.
While the professionals rarely make the visit to St Andrews’ hallowed turf, and links golf is a rare treat, amateurs such as Chesters spend a lot more time playing that type of course. Chesters and Kinnear took part in the St Andrews Trophy, held here in June, while the same month saw Frenchman Romain Langasque win the Amateur Championship at Carnoustie and Panmure.
“It’s been a great tournament,” said Chesters. “I’ve played really good this week, so I’m really happy. I looked at the scoreboard on the 10th, and I actually had an eagle putt, and I saw that was to tie me for the lead. I think that was why I hit it so hard, actually.
“But yeah, it’s crazy to think I could have had a putt to lead The Open on the final day.”
After attempting to defend his European Amateur Championship in Slovakia, Chesters will be back on the links at Royal Lytham & St Annes, where he will again square up against Schniederjans as part of the GB&I team battling the USA for the Walker Cup.
After that, he’ll make the plunge into the professional ranks, where Taylor, Balcombe and Kinnear will expect to soon join him.
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