Collective Sighs

By Mercer BaggsAugust 21, 2005, 4:00 pm
For the 105th occasion, the United States Amateur Championship will be contested beginning Monday. That means, in looking to the past, someone will soon be forever linked to golfing legends like Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
And, in looking to the near future, it likely means that this same someone will soon struggle meet the lofty expectations that come with winning such a prize.
Winning the U.S. Amateur is akin to winning a professional major championship (which is appropriate since it was once considered a major) ' victory is great; but victory does not make one great.
In the mid-90s, Woods provided a straight shot of adrenaline to The Am by winning three consecutive titles. He created an enthusiasm for the championship that hadnt been witnessed in over 60 years.
Tigers success also created a residual effect. Some of it was quite positive, like the increased interest. For example, NBC picked up the final two days of coverage in 1996, the year in which Tiger completed his triple, and, a decade later, is still scheduled to do so.
But a measurement was also established to Tiger Woods.
Woods revived the notion that the U.S. Amateur winner must become a great champion, like Jones and Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus. Or, if thats an unfair comparison ' which, of course, it is ' to at least become an above-par professional, like John Cook and Scott Verplank and Billy Mayfair.
Instead, the winners in Woods wake have been at best a bit disappointing.
Its not that none of the eight Amateur winners post-Tiger has yet to win a major championship. Its not that none of them have won multiple PGA Tour titles.
What makes this group disappointing is that collectively theyve accomplished very little since turning professional.
Over the years, the U.S. Amateur has produced its share of winners who had little or no professional success; Chris Patton, Eric Meeks and Mitch Voges come to mind. But usually over the course of a 5-8-year period, a few of these guys will go on to have very productive careers.
Its way, way too early to label any of these most recent winners a professional failure. But thus far, they are nowhere near where they want to be or where anyone ' including them ' thought theyd be.
Matt Kuchar (1997) and David Gossett (1999) are the only Amateur winners over the last eight years who have gone on to win a PGA Tour event.
But whats most amazing is that only one of these players currently has full exempt status on tour ' and its not Kuchar or Gossett. That distinction belongs to Hank Kuehne, the 1998 winner.
When you win the Amateur, your expectations grow, Kuehne told me a year ago. You feel you can play better and that you should play better. It takes a while to meet those expectations.
For each and every one in this group, those expectations are still waiting to be met.
Kuchar, who won the 2002 Honda Classic, is the only other player in this bunch who is playing regularly on tour this year, doing so because he finished 139th on last years money list; though, in 15 events he resides outside the top 150 in earnings.
Gossett could play on a semi-regular basis due to his 2001 John Deere Classic victory. Instead, hes trying to rediscover his game on the Nationwide Tour, and not having much success. Gossett has played seven tournaments on the secondary circuit and has missed all seven cuts, failing to post a single sub-70 round.
Jeff Quinney, the 2000 Amateur winner, and Bubba Dickerson, the 2001 winner, are both playing on the Nationwide Tour. Quinney, who won the 2004 Oregon Classic, tied for third in last week's Xerox Classic, easily his best finish of the season. He's still, however, outside the top 70 on the money list, with the top 20 at season's end earning a promotion.
Dickerson tied for 11th this past week in New York. But he's outside the top 40. He is a rookie on tour, and one without exempt status. He has spent the early stages of his professional career bouncing around on the various developmental tours, like the European Challenge Tour and the Hooters Tour.
Similarly, 2002 winner Rickey Barnes and Australian Nick Flanagan, the 03 champ, are playing wherever in the world they can, as they have no status in the States.
Then theres last years winner, Ryan Moore. Moore, who won every major amateur event in 2004, is still trying to find his professional footing. He has used four of his seven allotted PGA Tour sponsors exemptions since relinquishing his amateur status after the U.S. Open, making two cuts and earning less than $21,000.
Hes likely headed to the Qualifying Tournament in order to try and make it to the big leagues next season. Q-School is the most viable ' and for some the only ' option for most of these players to earn their 2006 PGA Tour card.
Kuehne is inside the top 80 on the tours money list this year, making him the only member of this group assured of exempt status for next season.
Come Sunday evening, there will be a newly crowed United States Amateur champion. This we know, because none of the 312 men in the stroke-play field have ever won this event.
And he will do so at historic Merion Golf Club, site of Jones completion of the seasonal Grand Slam in 1930.
Winning the U.S. Am is a phenomenal accomplishment ' the ultimate for any amateur. Hopefully, for the eventual champion and his most recent predecessors, its not the pinnacle of thier golfing careers.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
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