Mickey Walker on the British Amateur Championship
The pinnacle of individual achievement in the amateur game for British women must be to win the British Amateur Championship, which this year was played at Royal St George’s. Emily Pedersen became only the second Danish player to win the historic championship first played in 1893.
The Championship, and women’s golf in the UK has changed enormously since my amateur days in the 1970s. I was fortunate enough to win two British Amateur Championships, at Alwoodley in 1971 and the following year at Hunstanton. When I think back and see old photos, I am amazed by the huge galleries we used to have.
Primarily I suppose this was because there was no professional women’s tour in Europe at that time so the top British golfers were amateurs. The majority of the field were British and Irish but, every four years when the Curtis Cup was played in the UK, most if not all of the American Curtis Cup team stayed on to compete in what was then the biggest amateur championship in Europe. The LGU sensibly scheduled it to take place during the week following the Curtis Cup matches.
A lot of the top French players also made the trip across the Channel to compete but it was only much later that the championship became truly international with players from all over the globe travelling to our shores. In this year’s Championship golfers from 21 different nations came to play!
Looking back on my amateur career there were very strict rules on what we were and weren’t allowed to accept so as not to infringe our amateur status In recent years although there has been British success – Kelly Tidy in 2010 and Georgia Hall last year – with the growth of women’s golf throughout Europe and the loosening of amateur status rules, many leading European players make the journey over to the UK to compete. Recent winners such as Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, and Spaniard Carlotta Ciganda, are now big stars in the professional ranks.
Looking back on my amateur career there were very strict rules on what we were and weren’t allowed to accept so as not to infringe our amateur status. As a member of the 1972 Curtis Cup team I was allowed to accept a gift of a dozen balls from a leading manufacturer.
Nowadays, golf is a global game. The junior national programme and collegiate golf in America are big business. International travel is now commonplace for the ever-growing middle classes around the world and we need to encourage as many of those people to take up golf as we can. With golf being included in the Olympics in Brazil in 2016, I hope the sport will be embraced by even more countries.
For many years I had an association with the Daily Telegraph Junior Championships during which time the finals were played in Portugal, the US, South Africa and, latterly, Dubai. Many of the leading juniors had already travelled the world as part of a national team, and if they were members of one of our national elite squads, had financial support to help fund them.
So golf has come a long way since I was worried that accepting a dozen balls might get me into trouble!
Given that an amateur is good enough, they will get invitations to play in professional tournaments and would naturally want to test themselves against the best. Every so often an amateur comes along who can challenge and on occasions beat the professionals. One such person is Lydia Ko from New Zealand who, when ranked as the best amateur in the world, beat all the professionals to claim two Canadian Opens. Lydia turned professional at the start of this year, and as a 17-year-old has already won two LPGA tournaments and risen to World No 2!
One thing for certain is that regardless how successful golf becomes, there will always be a place in the calendar for the British Amateur, which if you’re fortunate enough to win, is a great achievement to have on your CV!