Talk about exceeding expectations. George Duncan, after all, reckoned he’d have been “happy” to have progressed beyond the second round in the Scottish Amateur Championship. Guess what? The 21-year-old from Windyhill in Bearsden won it.
In a clash between two surprise finalists at Royal Aberdeen, Duncan beat Nairn’s Andrew Burgess 3&1. In doing so, Duncan followed in the footsteps of his Windyhill clubmate Andrew McArthur, who claimed this prize in 2002 at Western Gailes.
“I’m speechless,” admitted the new champion. “It’s the best feeling I’ve had in golf by a slong shot. I can’t believe I’ve won the Scottish Amateur Championship, especially as I wasn’t able to get past the second round last year.” Duncan, of course, shares his name with a famous Scottish golfing figure. Aberdeenshire-born George Duncan won The Open in 1920, played in three Ryder Cup and captained the winning side in that event in 1929 at Moortown. “I’ve heard about that a lot this week,” joked Duncan, who is at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee.
Based on the players they’d beaten en route to the final, Burgess certainly started the 36-hole title showdown as the title favourite. His victims, after all, had included South African Amateur champion Craig Ross, leading host club hope Mark Halliday and, in a top-class contest in the semi-finals, top seed and Australian Amateur champion Connor Syme. The confidence gained from the latter was apparent as Burgess, who had his older brother, Sean, caddying for him, played the opening hole in textbook fashion whereas Duncan, who’d freely admitted that he’d been “riding my luck” to still be standing at the end of this golfing marathon, missed the fairway with his first shot of the day, couldn’t get up in two and immediately fell behind.
After lots of toing and froing, it wasn’t until the 13th hole, though, that Burgess, who is two years into a golf scholarship at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, managed to get two holes in front for the first time and you wondered if he’d kick on from there. ‘No’ was the answer. In fact, the match was quickly turned on its head.
Back-to-back three-putts by Burgess at the 14th and 15th wiped out his advantage before Duncan got his nose in front for the first time when his opponent, who’d become a bit ragged all of a sudden, found sand off the 16th tee and, as is the norm on a course like this, had to take his medicine by splashing out.
Duncan, who plays the game at a refreshing pace and was clearly determined to have the “fun day” he’d talked about on Friday night, then rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the 17th, which had already been good to him earlier in the week, he’d revealed, in wins over Connor Neil, Malcolm Pennycott and, in the semi-finals, Alasdair McDougall. From two down to two up, lunch suddenly tasted much better for Duncan in the splendid Royal Aberdeen clubhouse that has Pittodrie Stadium as its backdrop as you come up the 18th fairway.
It was a pity for Burgess, who’d shared 13 birdies with Syme and been round in approximately five-under 67 the previous afternoon, that he’d gone off the boil at the worst possible time. You could sense, though, that Duncan, a five-time club champion, felt this was another match that could see him upsetting the odds, even though both play off +1.5. Indeed, his advantage soon increased to three up after Burgess found trouble at the 21st and conceded that. The Nairn club champion then raised hopes of a fightback when a solid par proved good enough at the 27th, where Duncan was bunkered off the tee with a 3-wood that went further than he’d expeced it to, but there was no way back for Burgess when the deficit became three holes again after he’d bogeyed the 31st. “I can’t complain as the better man won today,” said Burgess. “George was very solid and never slipped up. He is a worthy winner and also a nice lad.”
All that remains to be seen now is if the new champion will secure one of two remaining spots in the team for the upcoming Home Internationals at Nairn. Based on Ailsa Summers, who won the women’s title at West Kilbride earlier in the year, being left out of the side for the ladies’ equivalent in Wales this week, that certainly isn’t guaranteed.