Should anyone in this year’s field come anywhere near to matching James Heath’s outstanding effort in 2004 then they will surely walk away with the 2017 edition of the Lytham Trophy.
Thirteen years ago the then 21-year-old beat Richard McEvoy’s previous best by seven shots and Tom Lehman’s Open Championship 72-hole record over the Lancashire links by five strokes.
The Walker Cup captain Garth McGimpsey described Heath’s golf as ‘the best amateur golf I’ve ever seen’. Heath finished on an 18-under aggregate of 266, eight better than Ross Fisher and 11 clear of Gary Wolstenholme.
This year Alfie Plant defends after his seven-shot triumph last year and he is one of 17 Walker Cup hopefuls on show this week.
Where did Lytham rank for you on the amateur tournaments?
Being played on an Open course made it very special. The course and clubhouse are awesome and, for me, as a stand-alone tournament it was the best.
I missed 2003 as I was at college but played in ‘02 and I was too inexperienced to play the course. I wasn’t the same sort of player I was in 2004 and it completely beat me up.
Lytham is a tough course so I couldn’t really play it back then but I came back from the States and something seemed to click that week.
What advice would you give for tackling Lytham?
Rory McIlroy rang me in 2006 asking how to play the course and I just remember telling him to keep it left – I don’t know if that still stands these days with the new bunkering.
Then make loads of pars the first four and last four and try and make some birdies in the middle.
Back then you had par 5s at 6 and 7 and then you had short irons into 8, 9 and 10. After that it seemed like there was just this succession of long par 4s. For some reason I had no limitations and was really settled and shot a few good scores.
What do you remember of the final day when you shot 66, 65?
I was three behind Ross Fisher going into the last two rounds so we had a little day to ourselves. He played great and hit so many putts that just didn’t go in. When you are on the other side of that you feed off it. It was a bit of a matchplay format. I remember being ahead after the third round and not going into lunch. I wanted to just carry on practising my putting, I was working on something and I didn’t want anything to disrupt that.
And you also won the English Amateur that year?
I won that at Hollinwell later in the year and I had Oli Wilson caddy for me in the first round and then my brother came up for the weekend.
When you are 20 or 21 you don’t realise how good you have got it – playing these amazing courses all over the country – and I managed to beat Gary Wolstenholme in the semi-final and then David Horsey in the final.
I had my brother, Mike, caddy for me at Lytham and we had a great rapport. We just got on great. He caddied for me for about three years and is my favourite caddy in the world.
However, with me not playing as well as I would have liked he now runs the family business.
Who were the players to look out for at the time?
Gary Wolstenholme was the favourite for the week and he was pretty much the favourite for most tournaments. You knew he was going to perform and it was just a case of if anyone could out-perform him. If you beat him you would finish in the top three.
Ross was always good, he didn’t try to be focused but he just had it. Nothing fazed him, he kept it simple and nobody was as long as him.
Sam Osborne was the best player I had ever played with; he hasn’t quite fulfilled that potential but who knows when that can happen.
Do you regret not hanging on for the 2005 Walker Cup?
I was really tempted to hang on for the Walker Cup. I played in the Eisenhower Trophy and I just really wanted another challenge. I hadn’t planned to turn pro but I just did it.
I don’t have any regrets but it would have been lovely to play in the Walker Cup.
Peter McEvoy wrote something in his book about how he was disappointed that I had turned pro. I was young and quite impressionable so I didn’t take that very well and I consciously thought about it and wondered if I had made the right decision.