18 July 2019: In addition to the race for the Claret Jug, the hunt for the Silver Medal at The 148th Open is also underway.
Every year since 1949, the non-professional golfers in the field have competed to earn the prestigious Silver Medal – awarded to the leading amateur, provided that player completes all 72 holes.
It has been won 51 times in 70 Championships and numerous victors have gone on to highly professional successful careers with Tiger Woods (1996) and Rory McIlroy (2007) later becoming Champion Golfer of the Year.
Hal Sutton (1981), Jose Maria Olazabal (1995) and Justin Rose (1998) are the other three Silver Medallists to subsequently win a major, while this year’s crop will look to emulate Sam Locke – who earned the gong at Carnoustie 12 months ago and is back at The Open as a professional after qualifying this year.
So let’s meet the six contenders hoping to etch their name in the history books.
Brandon Wu has quite the reputation to uphold this week but if he can emulate another Stanford graduate and former Silver Medallist, then he will do just fine.
The American may not get to play alongside Tiger Woods but the fleeting glimpses he has shown of his game suggests he could well be joining the big boys soon.
Wu shot into the public’s consciousness with a T-35 finish at the US Open last month, skipping his graduation ceremony in order to play at Pebble Beach.
Off the back of that, the 22-year-old came to the UK – acclimatised by playing at Muirfield – and stormed through Final Qualifying at Fairmont St Andrews to book his place at Royal Portrush.
“It is like a dream come true to qualify for The Open having watched all the greats play in it,” said Wu. “I kept it out of the long stuff and holed everything in the second round.”
A dream come true for Sugrue
The Amateur Champion for 2019, James Sugrue earned a place at The Open with that tense victory at Portmarnock in June.
The 22-year-old Irishman prevailed in a 36-hole battle against Scotland’s Euan Walker to etch his name on the historic trophy and he’ll now look to earn another momentous award in the form of the Silver Medal.
The county Cork native will have the honour of playing in the first group on Thursday morning, teeing off at 6.35am alongside Darren Clarke and Charley Hoffman.
And while Sugrue is looking forward to the experience, he knows the nerves will be jangling after almost hitting his shot off the first tee in practice out of bounds.
“The grandstands just come right around you and there wasn’t even that many people in the grandstands, so I can only imagine what it’s going to be like on Thursday,” said Sugrue.
“I’m just trying to block out all those grandstands and all those people and just try and play decent golf. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do.”
Curtis Knipes reached The 148th Open the hard way, surviving the 36-hole Final Qualifying event at Prince’s earlier this month to claim a spot at Royal Portrush.
The 18-year-old England boys international from Toot Hill in Essex put together rounds of 67 and 68 – three birdies in a row to end the front nine in the second round put him into contention, two more came at 15 and 16 and, after bogeying the next, he showed his steel by getting up and down for a par on the last following a drive into the sand.
Knipes became England Champion of Champions last year and played at Royal Portrush in the Boys Amateur – reaching the last 16.
“I’m lost for words,” he said after Final Qualifying. “It’s huge to get into The Open, the best competition in the world.”
Matthias Schmid followed in illustrious footsteps when he became European amateur champion last month – lifting a trophy previously held by the likes of Sergio Garcia, Stephen Gallacher and Rory McIlroy.
Schmid won at the Diamond Country Club in Austria by three strokes from Scot Euan Walker, who a week earlier had lost to Sugrue in the Amateur Championship final, with the performance of his young career.
The 21-year-old University of Louisville player shot a course-record 63 in the third round and is hoping The Open gives him an opportunity to rub shoulders with two of his heroes in particular.
“I want to practice with Tiger and Rory, those are my heroes,” said the German upon earning his Portrush place. “I’m probably going to watch them play more than I play!
“Obviously I’m going to try and play well, but at the same time it’s just a pleasure to play and a huge honour.”
A rising star of the sport, Takumi Kanaya earned a place at The 148th Open when he triumphed at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Singapore last October.
The third amateur, along with Wu and Knipes, to come through Final Qualifying – Thomas Thurloway emerged from the field at Notts Hollinwell to clinch his spot at the Dunluce Links.
Back-to-back rounds of 69 were enough for the 21-year-old Englishman to earn an Open debut and he can now look forward to a grouping with Emiliano Grillo and Sung Kang for the first two rounds.
The reigning English amateur champion, who plays collegiate golf in USA, was 366th on the amateur world rankings and tried to make sense of a rollercoaster year after Final Qualifying.
“I’m just glad I did enough to get the job done. I still can’t quite believe it,” said Thurloway, who followed in the footsteps of Paul Casey, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood by becoming English amateur champion.
“It’s been a strange sort of year for me after winning the English Amateur last August. I did win the Seminole Intercollegiate in the States, but I haven’t done quite as well as I thought I would.
“This makes up for all of it though – I’ve always dreamt of playing in The Open and to do it while I’m still an amateur makes it even more special.”
R&A Report from The Open