Open-minded Gregory sets sights on Troon's Silver

Scott Gregory will be bidding to become only the second Hampshire player to win The Open's Silver Medal at Royal Troon this weekend.

Wednesday, 13th July 2016, 8:00 am

The prestigious prize is awarded to the leading amateur after the conclusion of play at the Open Championship.

Coming out on top would see the 21-year-old emulate Justin Rose, who famously chipped in from 50 yards on the 18th at Royal Birkdale to finish fourth alongside Tiger Woods in 1998.

And while Gregory might not realistically be thinking of a top-five finish on his Open debut, a very tangible goal for the Corhampton Golf Club ace is making the cut in order to play all four rounds.

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In all likelihood, that would be good enough to see him become just the 10th British Amateur champion to earn the Silver Medal.

Having joined the illustrious honours board of past British Amateur Championship winners with his 2&1 victory over Robert Macintyre at Royal Porthcawl last month, Gregory might be surprised to learn how few have gone on to secure medal glory.

The past nine winners include Irish legend Joe Carr back in 1958, and Sir Michael Bonallack (1968).

In more recent times, Ryder Cup-winning captain and two-time Masters winner, Jose Maria Olazabal, captured the prize at Royal St George’s in 1985 – the year after he won the British Amateur at Formby.

Meanwhile, Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who won the Selborne Salver at Blackmoor in 2012 but didn’t win a British amateur crown, followed that up by claiming the Silver Medal at Muirfield in 2013.

He’s now embarking on a tour career that has seen the 2013 US Amateur champion win twice and be touted for a Ryder Cup place in September.

Matteo Manassero, who beat Lee-on-the-Solent’s Sam Hutsby in the final to earn his spot in the Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009, was the last British Amateur champion to land the coveted Silver Medal.

And, ironically, it is another Italian who stands between Gregory and the chance to match Manassero’s achievement this weekend.

Stefano Mazzoli is the only other amateur in the 156-strong field at Troon.

Qualifying for amateurs – and the hundreds of club pros who enter local qualifying every year – has become steadily harder since 2003.

Back then the R&A reduced the number of spots in the field for qualifiers from 16 to 12 in a bid to ensure the strongest field for the world’s oldest Major.

Last year Alister Balcombe was the only amateur who made it through final qualifying at one of the four venues used to play at St Andrew’s, and this year none were successful.

Gregory himself has made it through to final qualifying for the past three years.

But his victory at Porthcawl not only booked him an automatic starting place when action gets under way in Ayrshire tomorrow morning, it will also earn him the traditional invite to the 2017 Masters.

And provided he retains his amateur status until next summer, he will play in the US Open at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills.

But first the Waterlooville ace can savour playing in front of the 40,000-strong crowd expected daily at Royal Troon.

Gregory got the dream draw for tomorrow’s first round when he was paired with two past champions – 2001 winner David Duval and Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, who won the Open at Sandwich in 1985.

So in-between shots, Scott will have plenty of time to ask for advice from the two Major winners during Thursday and Friday’s play.

The group tie off at 7.08am tomorrow morning and 12.09pm on Friday.

American Duval’s win in 2001 is significant for his young playing partner, as that year the Silver Medal was won by Somerset’s David Dixon.

Gregory spent a week with Dixon playing and practising at Kiawah Island, when they teamed up to win a pro-am with a course record in their team total.

The 21-year-old, who travelled to the Carolinas fresh from his appearance in the Spanish Amateur Championship final in March, said then how valuable the experience was.

He was able to pick Dixon’s brain about his 14-year spell in the pro ranks – including his victory at the 2011 European Tour Qualifying School.

Gregory told The News at the time: ‘David had lots of great advice for me and was willing to answer any questions I had about the pro game and life on tour.

‘He has also won the Q-School so knows all about playing under real pressure to win a tour card.

‘Some of the insights he gave me from his own experiences I think will really help me.

‘Being able to spend 10 days in the company of a European Tour pro is something that you can’t put a price on.’

Having struggled to repeat the form that took him to the English Amateur final in 2014, Gregory’s turnaround in fortunes in 2015 came in Slovakia last August, when he finished fourth in the European Amateur.

Mazzoli, his rival for the Silver Medal, finished three shots ahead of the Hampshire wonder at the Penati Golf Resort.

But Gregory has his tail up now and will not be frightened by the task ahead of him this week – even if just three years ago, he was not an automatic name on the Hampshire first team sheet!