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R&A have no plans to follow the USA's bold Walker Cup lead

The amateur golfer comes in various guises.

Great Britain and Ireland celebrate their Walker Cup victory over the Balgownie Links at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in September 2011.  Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Great Britain and Ireland celebrate their Walker Cup victory over the Balgownie Links at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in September 2011. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

On one hand, there is the "crude amateur", like you or I, who tees it up with the murderous intent of a Mongol warrior and uncoils an eye-watering swing that possesses all the grace, rhythm and timing of the Keystone Cops trying to perform the Dashing White Sergeant.

On the other, there is the "career amateur", those with an aptitude and flair for this Royal & Ancient pursuit who can still hold down Monday to Friday employment as a bank manager, greenkeeper, lathe polisher or pantomime dame while rising to the occasion of high-level competitive action.

Then you have the so-called "professional amateurs", that swelling posse of young, cocksure, full-time campaigners that can click their fortunate fingers and enlist the kind of pandering support network that would make Cleopatra look cheap as they ready themselves for the plunge into the paid ranks.

In these reach-for the-stars times, when the amateur-to-pro turnover has never been greater or more reckless, it was interesting to hear word of developments from the good old US of A last week. Ahead of September's Walker Cup match in New York, where Great Britain & Ireland's golfers will be defending the silverware they plundered in fine style at Royal Aberdeen in 2011, the top brass at the United States Golf Association announced that a minimum of two mid-amateur players – golfers who tend to work full-time and are aged 25 or over – will be part of the 10-man American side for the biennial bout.

Long before the invention of fist-pumps, high-fives and do-or-die rallying cries that are now par for the course in team golf, the Walker Cup, named in honour of former USGA president George Herbert Walker [the great-grandfather of the dreaded George "Dubya" Bush], was a genteel occasion designed to "foster international goodwill between the US and Great Britain & Ireland."

To this day, it still remains a cornerstone of the amateur ideal and is, for those fortunate to have witnessed one at close quarters, a truly captivating showpiece.

In this win-at-all-cost era, where folk would trample their own granny into the ground just to get an X-Factor audition, the USGA's surprising decision has been warmly received in many quarters. It's certainly a nod to the more traditional values of the contest; an opportunity for career amateurs to reach the very pinnacle of their sport at a time when the amateur game at the top level is dictated by world ranking points and is almost a closed shop for those who are not full-time, professionals in waiting.

"This is something we've been talking about for a number of years and something we feel will be a win-win situation, not only for the Walker Cup, but for amateur golf," said Tom O'Toole, vice-president of the USGA.

It's perhaps unsurprising that Jim Holtgrieve, the current USA captain, has welcomed the news with open arms. The 65-year-old won the US Mid-Amateur crown in 1981 before having a brief and unfulfilling stint as a professional on the over-50s circuit . "I went to play only for money and forgot about having fun," said Holtgrieve, who was reinstated as an amateur in 2007.

While the mid-amateur scene on this side of the pond has failed to establish itself – many suggested that the age-limit should have been increased to 35 and over to attract a truly amateur entry – those in that bracket in the usa are treated like royalty by comparison. The winner of the US Mid-Amateur Championship, for instance, receives an invitation to the Masters.

Nathan Smith, the current holder of that particular crown, has played in the past two Walker Cups while the last time Team USA had two mid-amateur men in the line-up was at Ganton in 2003, where Trip Kuehne and George Zahringer flew the flag.

In the UK, the British Mid-Amateur Championship, run under the auspices of the Royal & Ancient since 1995, was discontinued in 2007 while the Scottish equivalent withered on the vine and eventually dropped off the domestic schedule a couple of seasons ago. Given the mid-am culture here, it's hardly a revelation to discover that the R&A don't have any plans to follow the USGA's somewhat bold Walker Cup lead.

Only time will tell what it means for Team USA. Given that the top-three players on the current world amateur rankings are all American – there are nine in the top 20 – their strength in depth, forged in the highly competitive arena of the US college circuit, is considerable and the battle for places in the side will be fierce. By chiselling a rule down in stone that states the side must have a quota of two mid-amateurs, the USGA big cheeses have made a brave move. Will the final team be the strongest 10 the Americans can muster? Probably not.

"Everyone wants to win, but it's also about what Mr Walker had in mind to begin with," Holtgrieve added. As the increasing professionalism of the amateur game continues and the boundaries become ever more blurred, is there anything wrong with harking back to a more traditional approach?

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