By Alistair Tait
FORMBY, England (June 15, 2009) – Pimply-faced teenagers may dominate the amateur ranks, but one wily veteran proved true that old adage about life beginning at 40 – even in the youthful world of amateur golf.
Three-time Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup player Nigel Edwards showed the youngsters how to play links golf. The 40-year-old may be old enough to have fathered some of the boys he’s playing against, so perhaps it was fitting that he should lead most of them by example.
The Welshman went round a windy West Lancashire Golf Club in 5-under 67 in the opening round of stroke play at the British Amateur Championship to virtually guarantee himself of making the match play stages of the Amateur Championship for the seventh time in the last eight years.
Italy’s Matteo Manassero, 16, went two shots better than Edwards when he recorded a 65 with seven birdies and an eagle to break the West Lancashire course record.
Edwards did what wily veterans do best: he managed his game well. “I kept in play today,” he said. Edwards drew on his experience of playing West Lancashire in the 2004 Brabazon Trophy. Edwards finished 15th that year with rounds of 71, 72, 71, 74 for a level-par finish of 288. Clearly he learned something from that experience that helped him tame one of England’s most under-rated courses.
“Position in the fairway was key today,” he said. “There is no control out of the rough.”
Edwards began his round with back-to-back birdies and had reached 4 under par after seven holes. A bogey at the 8th marred his progress, and he went to the turn in 33.
He offset a birdie at the par-5 11th hole with a bogey at 14 before an eagle, bogey, birdie finish on the last three holes for his best opening score in British Amateur Championship qualifying. His previous low was a couple of opening 68s in 2003 and 2004.
Edwards will be hoping to better the success he had on this coastline four years ago. He reached the quarterfinals of the 2005 championship at nearby Royal Birkdale before losing to 16-year-old Oliver Fisher.
Fisher has since joined the professional ranks, but Edwards and the rest of the field have another precocious teenager to look out for in Manassero.
Carl Mason’s 66 was the previous record, one that had stood for 26 years. Mason, now a long-time veteran of the European Senior Tour, returned that score in qualifying for the 1983 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Manassero could have smashed Mason’s mark by more shots but made bogeys at the 7th and 14th holes. Nevertheless, nines of 32, 33 will take some beating in years to come.
“It was a fantastic round where everything went my way,” the plus 4 handicapper said.
It was certainly a different experience from his last experience of links golf. In fact, it was a 19 shot swing from his 84 in the second round at Turnberry last year when he missed the cut.
To be fair to the boy from Verona in Northeast Italy, there was probably a swing of about 19 degrees from last year’s round to this. Heavy rain and strong winds at Turnberry last year were not ideal for a 15-year-old playing in his first British Amateur.
Manassero arrived in England with one ambition: to make the cut. He would need another 84 for that not to happen. Considering how he tamed West Lancashire, he seems certain to be in the knockout rounds.
England’s Sam Hutsby had the best score among the 26 GB&I Walker Cup training squad members in the field. He returned a 4-under 68 at Formby.
Defending champion Reinier Saxton returned a 2-under 70 at Formby.
Best score of the day at Formby came from 20-year-old Australian Matt Jager. He had a 6-under 66 thanks to a philosophy of staying out of the bunkers.
The top 64 and ties at the end of tomorrow’s second round qualify for the match play stages that start Wednesday at Formby.