By ALISTAIR TAIT
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — There is only one way for England’s Dale Whitnell to go if he hopes to keep his record of improving every year in the Lytham Trophy.
Winning is the only option for the 20-year-old.
Whitnell added a second-round, 2-over-par 72 to his opening 68 for a level 140 total to lead the Lytham Trophy heading into the final two rounds.
Scotland’s Gavin Dear holds second place a shot behind after a 70. First-round leader Shane Lowry shares third place at 142 with Englishmen Luke Goddard and Mark Thistleton.
Whitnell is playing in his third Lytham Trophy. He finished sixth in his debut. Last year he was runner-up to Matt Haines, missing out on a playoff for the title by a shot.
There’s a reason why Whitnell does well here.
“I just love this course,” he said. “It’s my favorite tournament and my favorite course. It’s a great test. It’s good to come to a course where you feel comfortable and have confidence in your game. It obviously brings out the best in me.”
Whitnell is a member of the 28-man Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup squad. He’s in the squad for good reason. Whitnell won the Portuguese Amateur Championship in February, and is a member of the English Golf Union’s Elite squad. He is currently ranked No. 26 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Amateur Rankings.
Needless to say, the plus 4.7 handicapper has set his sights on making the trip to Merion Golf Club September 12-13 as one of the 10 GB&I players to take on Buddy Marucci’s U.S. team.
“My goal this year is the Walker Cup. It’s the pinnacle of amateur golf. I’ve played in the Eisenhower Trophy (World Amateur Team Championship) but I want that Walker Cup spot. I’m going to turn pro at the end of the season and if I make the Walker Cup team then I will have done everything in amateur golf.”
Winning the Lytham Trophy would practically cement Whitnell’s place.
“That’s the goal this week.”
Dear propelled himself into contention by playing the back nine in 2-under-par. He is in good form, too. He warmed up for Lytham by winning the Craigmillar Park Open. Last year he helped Scotland win the Eisenhower Trophy. He also took his game stateside and won the Dixie Amateur.
Dear is also a member of the GB&I Walker Cup squad, and is heavily fancied to make the 10-man team.
Lowry has a good chance of joining Whitnell and Dear on the flight to the United States in September. The 22-year-old Irishman is also in the GB&I Walker Cup squad. Whether he flies to the U.S. as Lytham Trophy winner depends if he can replicate the form that saw him shoot an opening 66, rather than his second-round 76.
The burly Irishman did well to get round the Lytham layout in just six shots over par. He was 5-over after eight holes and looking like returning a big score.
“Yesterday I wasn’t in any bunkers but it was pay back time today,” Lowry said. “I was in five or six. I was even in the same one twice!”
Lowry hit what he thought was a perfect 4-iron at the 196-yard, par-312th hole only to see the ball come up short and plug in a greenside bunker. He made a double bogey there when he needed two attempts to get out of the trap.
He birdied the 13th but gave the shot back at the 15th and played the back nine in 1-over par 37.
“It’s disappointing but I’m still in the tournament.”
So too are a number of players looking to impress GB&I Walker Cup captain Colin Dalgleish and his team of selectors over the final two rounds.
The smart money says this year’s Lytham Trophy winner will be a GB&I Walker Cup squad player.
The Royal Lytham and St. Annes flag flew at half-staff Friday in the 44th edition of the Lytham Trophy. Ben Enoch, 18, was on his way to the event when he died in a car accident. As Alistair Tait reported, there haven’t been many dry eyes since. To read more, click here>