When Irishman Paul Dunne teed it up on Sunday at the Old Course while leading the 2015 Open Championship, we were reminded of the romance of the amateur golfer.
Playing for the love of the game, rather than trinkets and bin bags of dirty money. It’s what we – ‘we’ being the vast majority of golfers – play for. The intangibles. The things which have great intrinsic value, but won’t get you an environmentally-ruinous-but-very-handy NetJets membership.
And here was an amateur, albeit a very very good one, leading golf’s oldest major, on the most romantic course in golf.
The game has changed considerably since the time of Bobby Jones, the last amateur to win The Open back in 1930. Predictably, Dunne faltered on the back nine on Sunday, but boy, didn’t we all enjoy the story?
It might be unlikely anything similar will happen at the 150th Open, but that shouldn’t stop you getting to know the young amateurs in the field this time. (It should be noted some of these golfers have since dropped their amateur status for the love of LIV...)
Keita Nakajima – Japan - 21
He may have already played the Masters (where he shot 72-79) and the US Open (73-75) this term, but there’s nothing quite like the Open at St Andrews. The top-ranked player in world golf is eating up the amateur ranks, landing the Asia-Pacific and Japanese Amateur titles this season. He already has a win on the Japan Golf Tour, winning the Panasonic Open in 2021, and made his debut on the PGA Tour at the ZOZO Championship in 2021, where he came T28 in an event won by his hero Hideki Matsuyama.
Filippo Celli – Italy - 22
Italian Golf may be about to have a moment. At the very least, the spotlight will shine on the country next year when the Ryder Cup comes to Rome, but it may need to remain on Italy as a generation of talented youngsters arrives on the scene. Fillipo Celli is one of them, having qualified for The Open thanks to an impressive win at the European Amateur - the fourth Italian golfer to do so, and the third in the last six years. A 14th place finish in the St Andrews Links Trophy recently suggests he enjoys the Home of Golf.
Aldrich Potgeiter – South Africa – 17
The 17-year-old South African was experiencing links golf for the first time when he won The Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham last month. The second youngest winner of the event in nearly 150 years, Potgeiter shot a bogey-free 66 in the opening round of the 36-hole final, suggesting that he relishes the big stage. “I’m really excited,” Potgieter said after landing invites to the Open, Masters and US Open. “I played the Old Course recently [in the Links Trophy] and it was really amazing. I think the course is going to get in better shape so I'm really looking forward to that.”
Aaron Jarvis – Cayman Islands – 19
Aaron Jarvis must know every hump and hollow of North Sound Golf Club, as it’s the only 18-holer on the Cayman Islands. It served him well, though, allowing him to build a game that was polished at the David Leadbetter finishing school in Orlando, Florida. A win at the Latin America Amateur landed him a spot at the Masters (where he shot 81 and 74 before missing the cut), but scores of 75 and 82 in the strokeplay qualifying rounds of the Amateur Championship suggest he might struggle to adapt to the challenge of links golf.
Barclay Brown – England – 21
The junior section at Hallamshire Golf Club may be oversubscribed at the moment, with recently-crowned US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and amateur hotshot Barclay Brown both having learnt their trade at the club. Brown qualified for last year’s Open Championship with a course record at St Annes Old Links, before rounds of 69 and 67 at Hollinwell securing him a spot in St Andrews. Brown said: “I played the Old Course when I was about 10 years old with my mum and dad, but I’ve never played a competitive round there. To think my first will be in The Open is pretty cool.” Only recently back from playing college golf for Stanford, Brown said his mate Fitzpatrick had been in touch with congratulations.
Sam Bairstow – England – 22
Another Yorkshireman, Sam Bairstow got over the heartache of losing in the final of The Amateur Champtionship to book another spot at The Open after coming through qualifying at St Annes. Last year saw Bairstow post a respectable 75-72 to miss the cut by five, but he could go well this time around.
James Piot – United States – 23
James Piot has already snacked at golf’s highest table. An outing in this year’s Masters and US Open came after landing the US Amateur title at Oakmont, before he got the call from LIV CEO Greg Norman to compete in the rebel tour’s inaugural event in ‘London’ (very much not an amateur at that point, after reportedly pocketing $1m for signing up). The decision to play at Centurion has earned him some detractors, and you can’t imagine there will be many cheering that decision from the grandstands in St Andrews. Besides his agent, naturally...