At a time when Australia’s leading amateur golfers are the envy of the golfing world, there is a certain irony in the fact that this great nation’s champion hails from the other side of the planet. Step forward Connor Syme. The Scot won the Australian Amateur at Metropolitan back in January and this week will collect on one of the perks that have come with claiming the Challenge Cup – a start in the Emirates Australian Open at Royal Sydney.
“I’m delighted to be back,” says the 21-year old Fifer, who reached the semi-final of the 2014 British Amateur and the same stage of his own national championship this year. “I’m happy with the way I’ve been playing and the top-20 finish I posted last week in the New South Wales Open. That was a great experience.
“Winning down here was a huge week for me. It’s been awesome to carry the title of Australian champion and being able to play this week alongside so many great players is something I’m really looking forward to. My plan is to stay amateur for at least one more year, maybe two. I’m a little cautious of turning pro too early. There are things I still want to achieve in the amateur game. It’s all part of the plan I’ve put together with my Dad.
“Last week was a good indication of where my game is right now. My good golf is definitely good enough to make me competitive. But some silly mistakes hurt me. There were a few times when I didn’t really think out the shot like I could have done. A couple of times I compounded one error with another. The top guys don’t do that too often. I’ve still got a lot to learn about how they think their way around the course.”
Still, Syme has a good teacher in his father, Stuart. The head professional at the Drumoig Golf Centre near St. Andrews, the elder Syme provides the perfect sounding board for his son.
“Back when Connor was in his mid-teens he was a good footballer,” says Dad. “I knew he was always going to be a better golfer. But I had to wait until someone else told him that. When he was 15 we wrote down a ten-year plan for his career and so far we have stuck to the script. The idea is to progress and get better, through all the inevitable peaks and troughs every golfer experiences. This year, for example, the aim was to win a national title, which he did down here. He is very proud to be Australian champion.
“As for where Connor is right now, he is correct to say he needs to get better if he wants to compete with the best pros. Last week in the NSW Open he was a little scrappy around the greens and shot one-over par in the final round. A leading pro would have been better than that. Look at Jordan Spieth. I’m not massively convinced he hits the ball that much better than Connor. But he manages his game way better. That’s where Connor’s focus is right now. And that’s why I want him to compete a bit longer at the top end of amateur golf. He needs to learn how to win and he can – right now at least – do that better as an amateur.”
All of which make perfect sense. But Syme is not finished.
“I look at it this way,” he says. “Connor hasn’t gone down the college route that so many amateurs take. That’s a great apprenticeship, but it wasn’t for him. He has two sisters at university doing five-year academic courses and that’s what I feel Connor is doing right now. This is his university course. And by the time he is done he will hopefully be qualified to play at the next stage.”
Given that, this week at Royal Sydney should prove to be the perfect preparation.