Ready for summer: Amateur season begins again
13 May 2012
by Golfweek

University of Texas star Jordan Spieth
University of Texas star Jordan Spieth

By Sean Martin

Amateur golf’s summer season is a special time in a player’s development. Longtime pros look back fondly on those days, when they would tour the country with friends, playing for golf’s purest pursuit: a trophy. There’s no CEO to present a seven-figure check at the end of an amateur event. The events are held on many of the country’s finest layouts, from major- championship tracks to hidden gems tucked away from the PGA Tour spotlight. More importantly, traveling, practicing and playing together allows strong relationships to build among these elite amateurs.

“We’re competitors and we’re trying to beat each other’s brains out, but when the round’s over, we’re practicing together and hanging out,,” said Blayne Barber, a member of last year’s U.S. Walker Cup team. “The relational aspect of it is something that sticks out for me.”

It won’t be all fun and games, though. There will be plenty of competition when the summer schedule kicks off.

Six members of last year’s U.S. Walker Cup squad – Barber, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Rodgers, Nathan Smith, Jordan Spieth and Chris Williams – are still amateurs. Many eyes will be on Cantlay this summer. He is No. 1 in the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and recently was low amateur at the Masters (T-47). He finished in the top 25 of four consecutive PGA Tour events last year.

Rodgers and Spieth are Nos. 2 and 3 in the world, respectively, and contenders to win national Player of the Year honor in their freshman college seasons, as Cantlay did last year. And fellow freshman Justin Thomas of Alabama also is a top player to watch. In February, he won the Jones Cup, one of amateur golf’s biggest prizes; he added a Southeastern Conference individual crown in April.

The amateur season will get off to a special start on the West Coast this year, with the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship May 29-June 3 at historic Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles. The U.S. Open follows June 14-17 up the coast at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Cantlay is exempt by virtue of his 2011 U.S. Amateur runner-up finish, and several top amateurs usually earn Open spots through qualifying.

Players will go from the Open to the Northeast Amateur, set for June 20-23 at Wannamoisett Country Club, a Donald Ross design and a rare par-69 course. Don’t let that fool you, though. Wannamoissett is among the summer’s best tests. The Dogwood Invitational, typically a low-scoring affair will be held the next week at Atlanta’s Druid Hills Golf Club.

The schedule gets packed in midsummer, giving players more top-notch events than they can handle. A couple of major- championship venues on opposite coasts, Pinehurst and Sahalee Country Club, will play host to events the first week of July, the North & South (July 3-7) in Pinehurst, N.C., and the Sahalee Players Championship (July 4-6) in Sammamish, Wash.

The U.S. Amateur Public Links, golf’s everyman event, will be held July 9-14 at Soldier Hollow Country Club in Utah. The Players Amateur, whose winner receives an exemption to the PGA Tour’s 2013 RBC Heritage, will overlap, being held July 12-15 in South Carolina. The overlap will keep Corbin Mills, who won both events last year, from defending his titles.

Those tournaments will be followed by the Porter Cup near Niagara Falls, N.Y., and the Southern Amateur at Chenal Country Club in Arkansas, both of which will be held July 18-21. The Southern’s winner traditionally receives a sponsor exemption to the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational the next spring. The Pacific Coast Amateur, scheduled this year at one of America’s premier golf resorts, Bandon Dunes, follows July 24-27.

The summer culminates with two challenging match-play tests, the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur. The Western, considered by many to be the nation’s second-most prestigious event because of its demanding format (72 holes of stroke-play qualifying, followed by a Sweet 16 of match play contested over two days), will be played July 30-Aug. 4 at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill.

The season culminates with the U.S. Amateur (Aug. 13-19) at Cherry Hills Country Club. Phil Mickelson won the 1990 U.S. Amateur there on the 30th anniversary of Arnold Palmer’s historic U.S. Open triumph at the suburban Denver layout.

“To win the U.S. Amateur . . . is such a great feeling and feat because it’s really the epitome,” Mickelson said. “It’s the one major (amateur title) that you shoot for.”Its past winners include so many of the game’s greats, from Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Palmer to Mickelson and Tiger Woods, a three-time winner. Claiming the Havemeyer Trophy also requires endurance – 36 holes of stroke play are followed by six rounds of match play, culminating with the 36-hole final.

It’s a grueling test to cap off what promises to be a special summer

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