By Alistair Tait
ANTALYA, Turkey – Maybe it’s fitting that the world’s best amateurs get to play the same course set to stage the world’s richest tournament, even if it’s a little strange that 216 of them will get the chance to rip it up before the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
This week’s World Amateur Team Championship on the Mediterranean coast of southwest Turkey is staged at Cornelia Golf Club and over the PGA Sultan Course at Antalya Golf Club. The Sultan Course is the venue for next week’s Turkish Airlines World Golf Final, a $5.2 million bonanza for just eight players. Besides McIlroy and Woods, Charl Schwartzel, Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar will compete for a first-place prize of $1.5 million with “just” $1 million going to the runner-up.
Finishing last isn’t too bad, either. The seventh- and eighth-place finishers receive $300,000 each. Fifth and sixth is worth $450,000 per man, while third and fourth nets $600,000 apiece.
Nice work, if you can get it.
Quite what the tournament is the final of is a bit of a mystery. The final of the race to make already rich golf professionals even richer, perhaps?
Of course, the nations playing in the World Amateur Team Championship this week are playing purely for pride, and the honor of holding aloft the Eisenhower Trophy that goes to the winning team. Yet we shouldn’t get too carried away with the Corinthian spirit these young men from around the world will hopefully embody this week. Rest assured the majority of them will one day hope to play for the same wheelbarrow loads of cash that the eight professionals will wheel away next week.
The professional tournament next week features five of the world’s top 10 in McIlroy (1), Woods (2), Westwood (4), Rose (5) and Simpson (8). Coincidentally, this week’s World Amateur also features five of the world’s top 10, although their bank balances are slightly different.
University of Washington senior Chris Williams arrives in Turkey as the world’s No. 1 player. Indeed, his first task was to pick up the Mark H. McCormack Medal as leading amateur for the 2012 season. He enters the tournament in good current form after finishing joint second in the Ping/Golfweek Preview.
World No. 2 Daan Huizing represents The Netherlands. The Dutchman has had a season to remember this year, blowing away fields in the Lytham Trophy and St. Andrews Links Trophy, two of the biggest amateur events in the British Isles.
Alabama sophomore Justin Thomas tees it up alongside Williams in the U.S. lineup. Thomas is ranked third in the world.
Frenchman Julien Brun, world No. 8, arrives fresh from winning on the European Challenge Tour. The TCU player made his debut recently on Europe’s junior circuit and won the Allianz Golf Open Toulouse Metropole. Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, ranked ninth, completes the list of top-10 players.
Other notables in the field include Steven Fox, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. He will form a formidable partnership with Williams and Thomas for the Americans. Asian Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama, the world No. 17, turns out for Japan. Alan Dunbar represents Ireland. World No. 22 Dunbar won this year’s British Amateur Championship at Royal Troon.
All told, 38 of the world's top 100 are in the field in what promises to be a closely contested showdown for the famed Eisenhower Trophy.
France enters the tournament as Eisenhower Trophy holders after winning in Buenos Aires, Argentina, two years ago. Brun is obviously in good form, and he and teammates Paul Barjon and Edouard Espana are expected to mount a strong defense of their title.
The pre-tournament buzz was that former Chelsea and AC Milan player Andriy Shevchenko was going to play for Ukraine, the former Soviet state’s first appearance in the World Amateur.
Shevchenko is an avid golfer with a single-figure handicap. He was a member of The Wisley Golf Club (where European Ryder Cup player Francesco Molinari is also a member) when he played in the English Premier League, and is also a member of Congressional Country Club. However, the internationally renowned soccer star has had to pull out because his American wife is due to give birth.
Or maybe Ukraine’s richest sportsman just didn’t want to slum it with the amateurs. He might feel more comfortable next week in the pampered world of McIlroy, Woods and Co.