WALES have five men golfers in the top 500 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings for the first time, underlining a period of real progress in developing players.
While Welsh golf has always produced outstanding individuals and occasionally enjoyed the benefits of two or three of those coming through the system at the same time, the world rankings success show the Golf Union of Wales system is producing greater strength in depth at this level than ever before.
The Wales Ladies team has been enjoying success over the last few years, spearheaded by the likes of Conwy’s Amy Boulden, Wrexham’s Chloe Williams and Becky Harries, but now Welsh Men’s golf is also producing a series of firsts under national coach Neil Matthews and director of performance Ben Waterhouse.
“A number of people have put in a lot of hard work to get the systems in Welsh golf working as efficiently as possible, so it is good to see proof that we are heading in the right direction,” said Golf Union of Wales chief executive Richard Dixon.
“I have been involved in Welsh golf since Ian Woosnam was competing at amateur level and we are now developing strength in depth through the player development programme and squad systems in place.
“We get a lot of support from Sport Wales and the R&A, but hopefully we are repaying their faith in us.”
The World Amateur Golf Rankings have become more important than ever as a route into the top events and also selection for the various national and international teams. The five Welsh players in the top 500 are David Boote, Owen Edwards, Evan Griffith, Jack Davidson and Tim Harry.
Stanford University student Boote is the highest ranked at 72, Llanwern’s Edwards at 133, Conwy’s Griffith at 400, Llanwern’s Jack Davidson at 460 and Vale Resort’s Harry at 469.
Wrexham’s Tom Williams is 541, while Josh Davies, Zach Galiford, Ben Westgate and Ben Chamberlain are all in the top 850 to make an unprecedented 10 in the rankings for Welsh men’s golf, which are dominated by United States players who provide half the top 500 names.
That is part of a series of recent firsts for Welsh amateur golf. David Boote and Chloe Williams were both selected to represent Europe against Asia/Pacific, the first time there has been Welsh representation in both the men’s and women’s European teams at the same time.
Three Welsh players were picked for the Great Britain and Ireland Jacques Leglises Trophy team against the Continent of Europe for the first time.
Wales also finished third in the European Nations Cup, thanks to Edwards, who came second in the individual, Griffith, Davies and Davidson.
A series of strong individual results early season has been responsible for the rise up the rankings, for instance Edwards climbing from below 600 to close to the top 100 has been thanks partly to finishing top in the stroke play at the Spanish Amateur and fourth in the Portuguese Amateur.
Boote was fourth at the South American Amateur, Griffith a semi-finalist at the Australian Amateur, while Harry was 15th in the Jones Cup Invitational which is considered one of the main amateur events in America, Davidson was top 10 at the Lake Macquarie Amateur and the Master of the Amateur in Australia.
“These results are testament to the way the players have taken on board the lessons about how hard they have to work away from the public eye,” explained Waterhouse. “We have players in our system who understand what they need to do to succeed at the top level, and crucially, are committed to maximising their talent.
“Our targets are for our players to achieve Great Britain and Ireland representation, along with individual performances at British, European and world level – over the past few years we have surpassed those targets.
“Neil has been national coach for eight years and I know this is the first time he is genuinely happy with the way the squad programme is running and the way the players have committed to the system.
“Sport Wales and the R&A have invested significantly, we have seen a rise in funding, because they can see our programmes and structures are having a really positive effect. Without this ongoing investment we would not be able to provide this level of support for our talented players.”
“The players now have access to a high quality support network around them, this includes the GUW coaches, sport science team, captains, selectors, personal coaches and also their parents. The feedback from the players involved has been incredibly positive and we are looking to keep improving in the future.”
“A group of players self-funded their trip to Australia at the start of the season so they then came back to Europe in good form, which has paid dividends. That is something we can look to support in the future because we have seen the beneficial impact on results.”
“They have also been supported by access to the centres of excellence around Wales particularly Clays in Wrexham, Machynys, The Vale Resort and Celtic Manor, which have helped produce a wider geographical spread of top players.
“We have the programme running all the way through from nursery level up to established internationals in the national squads. We now have around 100 players who are part of the elite performance system which is the highest number we have had in the last four years.
“We are working with the players from a younger age to provide a taste of what an elite programme involves. It has been great to see players get promoted from nursery to academy to regional to national levels, which shows the system is helping the players to progress and develop.”
“These guys coming through now all want to turn professional and we would love them to become the next Jamie Donaldson, Bradley Dredge or Phil Price, it would be great news for Welsh golf if these new role models for the game were out there as well.
“The Golf Union of Wales are not judged on the professional side, but having more top Welsh professionals will certainly help the game in Wales. It helps us that those who have made it in the professional ranks are very happy to give something back by helping the next generations.
“We have also had tremendous support from the golf clubs of Wales. This is not just the centres of excellence, but also all the clubs who help with events and squad weekends – if we had to pay for what they offer then we could not do it, we are incredibly grateful to the clubs and their members for letting us utilise their facilities.”
Pictured is Conwy’s Evan Griffith.