US force blown away in Amateur Championship

IS THE face of golf really changing? Yes, we’d better believe it is if yesterday’s evidence at Carnoustie is anything to go by.

Grant Forrest. Picture: Jane Barlow
Grant Forrest. Picture: Jane Barlow

Five Americans headed out in the opening match-play round in the 120th Amateur Championship; only one – Hawaiian John Oda – returned without having wounds to lick.

In contrast, Iceland enjoyed a 100 per cent strike-rate at the Open Championship venue in Angus as three of its players – Andri Bjornsson, Gisli Sveinbergsson and Gudmundur Kristjansson – all came through unscathed to reach the last 32.

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There is also a Polish player, Mateusz Gradecki, who is flying that particular flag more admirably than his compatriot, Jan Lubienicki, did as he finished last in the 2013 Senior Open at Royal Birkdale after rounds of 89 and 83.

All in all, it was a timely reminder. The nations that were once the powerhouses in this event can’t now be counting any chickens, though, in fairness, the Scots gave a good fist of themselves on the opening day of the cut-and-thrust phase.

It was played in wind gusting up to 20mph, which didn’t help either Ryan Stovash, Jordan Niebrugge, Rico Hoey or Frederik Wedel as they failed to emulate Oda after he had chiselled out a 19th-hole win over Jaime Lopez Rivarola from Argentina.

“He struggled a bit because he’s not used to those conditions in the States,” said Barassie’s Jack McDonald after handing out a 6&5 thumping to Wedel, a semi-finalist in last year’s US Amateur Championship. “I’m used to them, on the other hand, because it can get pretty blowy down on the west coast.”

A semi-finalist at Troon three years ago, McDonald had his head buried in books as he finished a degree in Applied Mathematics at Stirling University. Now able to concentrate solely on golf, his performances have started to pick up again.

“I’ve not had that opportunity before so I’m going to stay amateur for a year and see how it goes,” said the 22-year-old, who played with Ernie Els when he teed up in the 2012 Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.

McDonald’s compatriot, Grant Forrest, faces a dangerous second-round opponent in Sveinbergsson. Winner of the Duke of York Young Champions event at Royal Aberdeen last year, he produced the day’s best figures – two-under-par – in accounting for Englishman Ben Wheeler.

It’s not taken Forrest long, though, to re-adjust to links golf after finishing his four-year stint at the University of San Diego. “I hit a lot of nice knockdown shots today,” said the Craigielaw player after beating Dunbar’s Zander Culverwell 6&4 in their all-Lothians tie. “One with a 4-iron from 180 yards to four feet at the seventh was a cracker.”

Greig Marchbank (Thornhill), Craig Ross (Kirkhill) and Robert MacIntyre (Glencruitten) are the other Scots still standing in the battle to succeed Bradley Neil. It was a case of fortune favouring the brave as 18-year-old MacIntyre, the 2013 Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play and Scottish Youths’ champion, won at the last against Australian DJ Loypur. “After he’d driven into a bunker at the last, I took out my driver – the best club in my bag – and knocked it right down the middle,” he said of taking on a treacherous final tee shot.

In addition to Culverwell, Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson and Peebles player Craig Howie also bowed out, the latter becoming the 17th player to lose first time out as either top seed or joint-top seed since the stroke-play qualifying was introduced in 1983. Swede Marcus Kinhult, the world No 3, was the day’s main casualty, losing the last four holes in going out to Norway’s Vetle Maroy, the world No 565.

Who’d have predicted that?