Known as the "Masters" of amateur golf, the Western Amateur kicks off this week. This year's tournament is taking place at the historic Skokie Country Club. With the Walker Cup looming, the field is one of the best in history. 63 of the top 100 amateurs in the WAGR made it to Chicago and will look to win the most prestigious amateur golf title. Past winners of the Western Amateur include the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw, and Curtis Strange.
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Heading into last year's Western, Illinois' Dylan Meyer was known only for his finger wags at the NCAA Championship. Then, Meyer was able to work his way to the finals and dispatch of heavy-favorite Sam Horsfield. The Western Amateur win kickstarted a brilliant run of golf from Meyer. A week later he made a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Amateur. He followed up the strong summer by becoming one of the country's top collegiate players. Meyer won three times as a Junior, First Team All-American honors and was a Hogan Award finalist.
One of Chicago’s and the country's oldest courses, Skokie Country Club, will test the world's best ams. Skokie was founded in 1897 and has gone through numerous iterations. The two most significant ones coming from Donald Ross in 1914 and Langford & Moreau's revamp in 1938. Langford & Moreau infused their bold green complexes and contours which serve as Skokie’s main line of defense. This week, the conditions are near perfect with firm greens and lengthy rough. It will place a premium on hitting fairways and attacking when given the opportunity. The par 5’s are scorable but the par 3’s are a brute with two of the four measuring 230+ yards.
Storylines to watch
The Walker Cup
Captain Spider Miller will announce the Walker Cup team following the mid-August U.S. Amateur. With only a few weeks left to impress Miller, all the top Americans will be at Skokie this week. There are only ten spots on the Walker Cup team and competition is fierce. While not official, there are a few players who are expected to get the nod, which include former number 1 ranked Maverick McNealy, NCAA individual champion Braden Thornberry and U.S. Mid Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad.
Back to back?
Dylan Meyer will look to become the first player since Justin Leonard to win back to back Western Amateur titles. Leonard did so, winning the '92-'93 titles at Point O' Woods. Skokie CC sets up well for Meyer, who thrives on layouts that call for precision and shotmaking.
It's been a number of years since a mid-amateur made the round of 16 at the Western Am. Last year, Andrew Price and Todd Mitchell were close to making it. Price finished two outside the number while Mitchell entered the final round in t5th. Both Price and Mitchell return this year and are joined by Stewart Hagestad, Garrett Rank and Charlie Waddell. Skokie's setup should help the experienced player, and I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of these names make the round of 16.
Players to watch
Here are a few other names to keep an eye on this week.
Cameron Champ - The Texas A&M star impressed at the U.S. Open, finishing t32nd despite a poor final round. Since then, Champ has been the best amateur in the country winning the Trans-Miss and finishing runner up at the Pacific Coast Amateur.
Braden Thornberry - The NCAA Individual champion and Haskins Award winner turned heads with his t4th at the PGA Tour's FedEx St. Jude Classic. On the amateur circuit, Thornberry found the winner's circle at this year's Sunnehanna.
Joaquin Niemann - The world's top ranked amateur will look to improve on last year's round of 16 appearance. The 18-year-old Chilean finished an impressive t29th at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic. His strong finish fueled rumors that he might bypass his committment to play college golf at USF, opting for pro golf.
Collin Morikawa - The soon to be Junior at Cal has had a stellar summer amateur season. Morikawa won the Northeast Amateur and finished runner-up at the Sunnehanna and notched a third place finish at the Trans-Miss. Morikawa's name might be familiar as last year he lost in a playoff at the Web Tour's Air Capital Classic.
Nick Hardy - The Illinois star and nearby Northbrook native made the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic. On the amateur circuit, Hardy played on this year's Palmer Cup team and notched top ten's at the Pacific Coast Am and Northeast Am. Hardy has had a great deal of success at the Western Amateur, making match play in two of the last three editions.
Sam Burns - The LSU star most recently finished t6th in the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship. Burns had a standout Sophomore campaign at LSU earning 1st Team All-American honors.
Doug Ghim - Another Illinois native, Ghim is fresh off a win at the Pacific Coast Amateur. Ghim plays his college golf at Texas and has a strong all-around game which should suit Skokie C.C. well. Ghim has made match play in two of the past three Western Amateurs.