Date: January 19, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

Best ever fields for Australian Amateur

If you ever had thoughts of winning the Australian Amateur Championship, here’s a word of advice.

You’d better hit the driving range — hard and often.

Extraordinarily talented fields of men and women have gathered in Sydney for this week’s national titles – arguably the deepest fields the time-honoured event has known.

And the increasingly international nature of the event has put an extraordinary pressure on the entry standard required to even reach the qualifying stage.

There are 234 men, none of whom has a handicap higher than 0.8 – a figure down from 1.4 last year.

In the 78-strong women’s field, a quantum leap in qualification standards means a maximum mark of 1.8, down from 4.4 last year.

And if you’re wondering where the tournament stands on the international stage, consider this: golf’s all-conquering Koreans have sent their entire men’s and women’s national squads for the first time to a foreign event.

On the men’s side, the dovetailed Masters of the Amateurs and Lake Macquarie events have also lured four top English players, a handful of Americans, defending champ Tae Koh from New Zealand and two players from Switzerland.

And while the might of the Golf Australia national squad will be tough to budge, our top-ranked player Lucas Herbert rates super impressive Canadian Corey Conners as the player to beat.

Conners, who has finished his university studies in Ohio, has one of the most imposing amateur records of any player in the world.

He’ll likely return to the world’s top 10 when his Lake Macquarie victory is factored in later today and was runner-up in the US Amateur last year following his semi-final appearance in 2013.

“He’s got an amazing record in matchplay, so I think he’s the one to beat on form,” Herbert said.

“But this field has got incredible depth. Any one of our national squad could do it – Ryan (Ruffels) is starting to play well, Cory Crawford and Cam Davis is an incredible match player.

“It’s not just the Aussie players, though. There are heap of international players who could do well, too – it’s a great field.”

Herbert and Ruffels were among the exceptional amateur wave who played in the recent Emirates Australian Open at The Australian – the venue for the matchplay component this week. Both the Australian and The Lakes will share Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s qualifying rounds before the knockout starts on Thursday.

“I think everyone watched the Open on TV in November saw how (The Australian) course looked and I think it has helped attract people from around the world,” Herbert said.

“People like coming to play great courses and the Open definitely helped that, too.”

More than 20 of the 25 Astor Cup players from last week’s Commonwealth teams event in Adelaide will tee up in the women’s section.

And Perth’s Hannah Green, still revelling as part of the Australian team’s triumph, said the field’s depth had skyrocketed in her fourth year of competing in the national titles.

Green, 18, rated her Aussie team leader and national squad member Shelly Shin the player to beat, but said she’d taken great confidence from the team’s victory at The Grange.

“I definitely was pleased to play like that  … in that situation,” Green said.

“I was hitting it pretty well and it’s great to be able to build off last week. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The men’s field will be reduced to 64 – and the women’s to 32— by Wednesday afternoon, ready to start matchplay on Thursday.

Both events will have reached field of eight remaning players by Friday evening with the finals on Sunday.

Check throughout the week for updates, and follow it live on @golfaust on Twitter.