x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Amateur dramatics set the stage for Asia

South Korean Jeong's Silver Medal at St Andrews show he could be ready to lead a charge for major glory from Asian players in the near future.

Jeong Jin of South Korea hit an impressive 284 over four days on the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland, last week.
Jeong Jin of South Korea hit an impressive 284 over four days on the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland, last week.

South Korean Jeong's Silver Medal at St Andrews show he could be ready to lead a charge for major glory from Asian players in the near future. YE Yang's magnificent conquest of Tiger Woods in a final day shoot-out for last year's US PGA Championship was the catalyst for a vast number of young South Korean men to try to follow in his footsteps. It also put down a marker for Asia that big victories currently being enjoyed by of considerable number of its women professionals would soon be mirrored by success on the men's tours.

Jin Jeong's performances during a productive month in Scotland suggest he will be in the vanguard of that Asian uprising. Having become the first player from that part of the world to win the 125-year-old Amateur Championship at Muirfield, he completed a swift double by adding the equally coveted Silver Medal which is traditionally awarded to the leading amateur in the British Open. Like Justin Rose in 1998 and Chris Wood two years ago, who finished fourth and fifth respectively at Royal Birkdale, Jeong was seriously in contention to take both silver and gold in a St Andrews showpiece eventually won at a canter by South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen.

Standing at six under par at the halfway stage in a tightly bunched chasing pack behind Oosthuizen, Jeong, 20, looked as comfortable as any of the wind-blown seasoned professionals around him for the 72 testing holes and was thoroughly satisfied with his tied 14th place. That 284-stroke aggregate would have earned the Melbourne-based South Korean a welcome £60,000 (Dh338,000) to tide him over in the early stages of what promises to be a successful career.

However, his sensible decision to remain in the unpaid ranks until he has accepted the annual invitation to the US Masters which is offered to the Amateur Champion prevented him from collecting that prize money. He had much to take away with him though. He maintained that he will never forget the eagle two he celebrated at the final hole - coincidentally Rose did the same at Birkdale, and that holed chip by the Englishman is still sharp in his memory and his supporters'.

Nor will Jeong tire of telling those back home that he had Yang and KJ Choi, his country's most prolific title winner with 17, trailing in his wake throughout the four days at St Andrews. He will be as welcome an addition to the pro ranks as Matteo Manassero, the Italian who recorded the same amateur double at Formby and Turnberry last year and made the transition after making his "dream" debut at Augusta National.

He also promises to be Asia's answer to Rory McIlroy, who won the Silver Medal at Carnoustie in 2007 and has since become the most exciting amateur to turn professional since Spain's Sergio Garcia a decade earlier. Of the 13 players who finished ahead of Jeong at St Andrews, only three of them were Americans and that trio of Sean O'Hair, Nick Watney and Jeff Overton can hardly be described as household names from the PGA Tour.

The poor showing of the Americans last week in an event which had produced 11 US winners in the previous 15 years will be of concern to Corey Pavin, the captain of the United States team who will be defending the Ryder Cup in Wales, in early October. Pavin, who is playing in the Senior British Open which begins at Carnoustie today, expected a more encouraging form guide from St Andrews, particularly from the world's top two Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both of whom lagged well behind a cluster of European players who are likely to be in opposition at Celtic Manor.

Mickelson is a certain starter against Colin Montgomerie's European team, the world No 2 having been top of the qualifying list since winning the Masters for the third time in April, but Woods is only just hanging on to the seventh of eight automatic selections for the 12-man line-up. It would be a nightmare scenario for Pavin if players such as Overton, Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes went past the world No 1 in next few weeks, putting Tiger at the mercy of his captain for one of the four wild cards. Pavin would be obliged to grant him one, even though on the strength of evidence on and off the course over the last eight months it would be an undeserved reward.

Montgomeries problems are the kind that most captains would relish - a potential embarrassment of riches when the time comes for him to hand out his three wild cards, so impressive have European players performed on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Only Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia, of the European big guns, have not yet displayed the kind of form that warrants extended presence in the Ryder Cup set-up.

That will be a slight worry for Montgomerie in the week he announced that his assistants will by Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley. However, the European captain is more than compensated by the emergence of Graeme McDowell as a world-class rival to McIlroy in their native Northern Ireland. They, like Europe's main man Lee Westwood, runner up at St Andrews on Sunday, and his English compatriots Rose and Ian Poulter, have all enjoyed beating the Americans in their own back yard this year. They are all savouring the prospect of doing the same collectively in October.

wjohnson@thenational.ae