ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) – Maybe it should not have been so startling to see two amateurs – Paul Dunne and Jordan Niebrugge – among the top six going into the final round of the Open Championship. Yes, it was rare. But this year has been a strong example that the learning curve is shrinking.
A year ago, Matthew Fitzpatrick of England was the only amateur to make the cut in the U.S. Open. He finished 20 shots behind Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst No. 2. This year, six amateurs made the cut at Chambers Bay. Brian Campbell of Illinois was the low amateur, finishing 10 shots behind Jordan Spieth.
Last year at Hoylake, no amateur made the cut in the Open. Five amateurs made the cut at St. Andrews, and two of them were serious contenders going into the final round. Ashley Chesters was also only six shots behind going into Monday, while British Amateur champion Romain Langasque of France was within four shots of the lead late in the third round until he faltered.
And on the day that Dunne became the first amateur in 44 years to be a 54-hole leader at a major championship (Jim Simons at Merion in the 1971 U.S. Open was the last one), don't ignore what was going on back on the PGA Tour. Robby Shelton of Alabama was three shots behind going into the last round at the Barbasol Championship, and he wound up in a tie for third.
So maybe Spieth was right. An amateur winning a PGA Tour event – maybe even a major – might not be too far off.
MORE POINTS AVAILABLE: Four more golf tours will start getting world ranking points this week, and don't be alarmed if they sound obscure: Alps Tour Golf, EuroPro Tour, Nordic Golf League, ProGolf Tour.
All are part of the European golf structure where the leading players on each of those circuits can either get a card for the secnd-tier Challenge Tour or be exempt into the second of three stages of European Tour qualifying school.
This probably won't affect who gets into the Masters. The world ranking board determined that the winner on these four circuits will get four points for a 54-hole event and six points for a 72-hole event.
UNIVERSAL TESTING: As the Olympics get closer, there are more calls for golf to become fully compliant with World Anti-Doping Agency standards. R&A chief Peter Dawson would like to see it happen after the 2016 games. IOC President Thomas Bach also believes it's best for a level playing field across all tours.
Among the differences is that the PGA Tour only discloses the player found to have violated the policy and the length of his suspension. It does not say for which drug he has been banned. And recreational drugs fall under the tour's conduct code. The tour releases no information on that discipline.
Only three players have been suspended under the anti-doping policy. The most recent was Scott Stallings, who told the tour he was unaware that an over-the-counter drug he was taking was on the banned substance list. Stalling received a three-month suspension. The other two (Bhavik Patel and Doug Barron) were out for one year. The tour did not explain the difference.
WADA President Craig Reedie said if nothing else, it would help that golf have one policy – not a tour policy that changes for the 13 weeks leading into the Olympics, when players are subjected to the Olympic code.
"I don't think it's a particularly good system that for three years you are under one system that isn't seen to be compliant, and then for the last bit of the next year you are under a different system that is compliant," Reedie said at St. Andrews. "I would really rather have people being compliant across the board so there is a completely level playing field. That is what we are trying to do."
CLASS OF `11: Ollie Schniederjans is the latest from the class of 2011 – that's high school, not college – to try his hand on the PGA Tour.
Schniederjans played his final event as an amateur at St. Andrews. He made the cut in both majors he played this year, exempt into them as No. 1 in the world amateur ranking last year.
He has been given a spot in the Canadian Open, and hopes to do well enough in a short amount of time to at least qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals. He could have started earlier, but that would have meant giving up spots in two majors.
Others from his class include Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger. Two are solid candidates as PGA Tour rookie of the year (Thomas and Berger). One is on his way to earning his tour card through sponsor exemptions (Rodgers).
DIVOTS: Sergio Garcia extended his streak of playing in 67 consecutive majors, the longest active streak in men's golf. He is followed by Adam Scott (57), and Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson (46). ... The LPGA has a new title sponsor for its oldest tournament in Asia. The TOTO Japan Classic will be played Nov. 6-8 and feature a $1.5 million purse. The tournament has been on the LPGA schedule since 1973. ... John Daly has been invited to play the Paul Lawrie Match Play, a new European Tour event that starts July 30 in Aberdeen. ... UBS has returned as the title sponsor for the Hong Kong Open on the European Tour, to be played Oct. 22-25.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Americans have won the first three majors of the year. The last time they swept them in one season was in 1982 with Craig Stadler, Tom Watson (twice) and Raymond Floyd.
FINAL WORD: "When you're under pressure, I never mind hitting a bad shot. When I'm under no pressure, it really kills me to hit a bad shot." – Padraig Harrington.
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