Connor Graham sets the pace at the British Amateur
Connor Graham (Royal and Ancient Photo)
Connor Graham (Royal and Ancient Photo)

The 17-year-old Scot, who became the youngest player to compete in the Walker Cup at just 16 last year, harnessed the testing conditions over the Old Course and opened his campaign with a 6-under 65.

That left Graham with a one-shot lead over Spain’s Jose Luis Ballester Barrio, with Michael Alexander Mjaaseth of Norway and Sergio Jimenez of Spain lurking a stroke further back.

A bogey on the 2nd hole was not the ideal start for Graham, but the 2022 R&A Junior Open winner mounted a strong recovery and reeled off five birdies in six holes, including four in a row from the 4th hole.

A dropped shot on the 12th hole was only a minor blemish on his score card that also featured an eagle on the par-5 14thhole thanks to a chip in from the edge of the green. A birdie on the 17th closed out the round.

Bright start for Graham

“The 14th was the highlight for me,” said Graham of that chip-in from around 20 yards.

“I hit a 3-wood (off the tee) because the driving distance downwind gets quite tight. That left me 250-yards and I hit a 4-iron just short of the green and chipped it in.
“I got off to a dodgy start but started making a few putts and then fired off four birdies in a row which really helped.”

Graham was sidelined earlier in the season with a stress fracture in his hand but he returned to competitive action with a solid showing in the St Andrews Links Trophy recently and the Blairgowrie teenager’s comeback gathered pace at Ballyliffin with a neatly assembled round.

“It's nice to get off to a good start on quite a tricky golf course and in some pretty tough conditions,” added Graham, whose older brother Gregor opened with a level-par 71 on the Old Course.

Spanish pedigree

Ballester Barrio conjured a rousing finale over The Old Course in a five-under-par 66 to move his way into second place.

The highly rated Spaniard, last year’s European Amateur champion and a runner-up in The R&A’s Boys’ Amateur Championship in 2019, picked up a birdie and an eagle on his closing two holes. 

The 20-year-old also made an eagle on the 4th, where he holed a putt of 40 feet, and his second of the day came from a cracking 3-iron approach that finished within nine feet of the hole.

Sergio Garcia won The Amateur Championship in 1998 and Ballester Barrio, who is coached by Garcia’s father Victor, is striving to follow in the footsteps of his major-winning compatriot.

Inspired by Sergio Garcia

“Sergio is a close friend and has always been a guy I look up to,” said the Arizona State University student. “We had Sergio and now we have Jon Rahm and the dream is to be in their position in a few years.”

Mjaaseth put together a round of poise and purpose which came alive on the back nine as he came home in four-under on his way to a 67 on The Old Course.
“I hit a really good second shot into the 9th and, although I didn't convert it into a birdie, it was still good for my confidence,” said the former European Young Masters champion. “That was a turning point in the round.”

Welsh Walker Cup player James Ashfield opened with a three-under-par 68 and was joined on that mark by the English trio of Harley Smith, Charlie Forster and Harry Crockett.

Dutchman Bob van der Voort, with the 2008 Amateur champion Reinier Saxton looking on in his role as a coach with the Netherlands Golf Federation, carded one of the best rounds on the exacting Glashedy Links with a two-under-par 70.

It was a tough return to The Amateur Championship for the 2004 winner, Stuart Wilson, as the former Great Britain and Ireland Walker captain signed for an 80, while Cooper Schulz of the United States of America made a hole-in-one with a pitching wedge on the 173-yard 7th hole of the Glashedy Course in a topsy turvy 77.

Results: British Amateur
WinDenmarkJacob Skov OlesenDenmark1800
Runner-upEnglandDominic ClemonsEngland1200
SemifinalsEnglandJack BighamEngland900
SemifinalsNYLuke SampleNew York, NY900
QuarterfinalsGermanyLaurenz SchiergenGermany700

View full results for British Amateur

ABOUT THE British Amateur

This championship, along with the US Amateur Golf Championship, is considered the most important in amateur golf.

The first stage of the Championship involves 288 players each of whom plays two rounds of 18 holes, one to be played on each of the two courses. The 64 lowest scores over the 36 holes and ties for 64th place will compete in the match play stage of the Championship. Each match will consist of one round of 18 holes except the Final which will be over 36 holes.

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