The Amateur

McClean eyeing memorable moments ahead of 'home' Amateur Championship

The R&A
15 Jun 24
3 mins

Matthew McClean admits that his memorable 2023 campaign will be hard to beat but the Northern Irishman is certainly not resting on his laurels as he prepares for a tilt at The Amateur Championship title at Ballyliffin from 17-22 June.

McClean enjoyed a season of thrilling experiences last year as he played in the Masters Tournament and US Open while representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup at the Old Course.

The 31-year-old, who earned those major championship outings by winning the 2022 US Mid-Amateur Championship, has already made his mark in 2024 by winning the Flogas Irish Open Amateur Championship.

Now, the fully qualified optometrist from Belfast, who has a fine pedigree in the match play format, is eyeing up another shot at glory as he looks to come out on top at The 129th Amateur Championship and the major opportunities that come with it.

As well as the pride and prestige of victory in one of the amateur game’s most venerated contests, success in The Amateur Championship is also rewarded with exemptions for The 152nd Open at Royal Troon, the 2025 US Open and, by tradition, an invitation to next year’s Masters Tournament.

Huge rewards await

“It’ll be tough to beat 2023,” said McClean, who is one of a host of Irish hopefuls looking to emulate the feat of compatriot James Sugrue who won The Amateur Championship the last time Ireland hosted it at Portmarnock in 2019. “Last year was pretty unique in terms of the opportunities that I enjoyed, and they were perhaps once in a lifetime moments. “The Amateur Championship, though, is the one we all want to win and everybody has the week earmarked in the calendar. “The rewards that come with an Amateur Championship win are huge. It’s the most sought-after title, for sure. In that sense, there’s an opportunity to make 2024, and 2025, just as good as 2023. “Everybody wants to bring their best game to the week and hopefully myself and the rest of the Irish boys can make a good run at it and generate a bit of a buzz.”
An aerial view of the par 4, 13th hole (L) and the par 5, 14th hole on The Old Links at Ballyliffin Golf Club on September 05, 2023 in Donegal, Ireland.
Donegal's glorious Inishowen peninsula will play host to some of the best amateur golfers in the world when it hosts The 129th Amateur Championship, where spectators can attend for free. More information here.

Useful experience

McClean is one of the more seasoned campaigners in a field full of youthful talent but he is confident that his experience can be a useful weapon in the armoury.

“It comes at you quickly,” he added. “One day you turn up at an event and you feel like one of the younger ones and an underdog. Before you know it, you’re 31 and a veteran. But experience is always a handy tool.”

One of the rising stars on show over the Old Links and Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin will be the English teenager, Kris Kim.

The highly rated 16-year-old, who won The R&A’s Boys’ Amateur Championship title last season, showed his fondness for the big stage when he made the cut among some of the leading lights of the PGA Tour in the CJ Cup Byron Nelson back in April.

Kim, whose mother and father were both golf professionals, underlined his match play qualities last September by claiming three-and-a-half points from four as Europe claimed victory in the Junior Ryder Cup.

The impressive Scottish siblings, Connor and Gregor Graham, will be striving to follow in the winning footsteps of their Blairgowrie clubmate, Bradley Neil, who won The Amateur Championship a decade ago at Royal Portrush.

Rolling back the years

The current Blairgowrie Managing Secretary Stuart Wilson is also in the field, 20 years after he won The Amateur Championship at the Old Course.

Walker Cup player James Ashfield, meanwhile, will look to bolster an impressive body of work in The Amateur Championship, the Welshman having reached the semi-finals in 2021 and the last-16 in 2022.

A strong American contingent, which includes Tommy Morrison who strides tall at six feet nine inches, has made the trip to Ireland while South Africa’s Christiaan Maas, runner-up in the inaugural Africa Amateur Championship this season, will be trying to reach The Amateur Championship final as a player having been in the last two as a successful caddie for Aldrich Potgieter and Christo Lamprecht.

The Amateur Championship is one of the biggest and most prestigious amateur championships in the world and features a starting line-up of 288 players.

The first Amateur was held at Hoylake in 1885 where 44 players from 12 clubs competed. Some of golf’s greatest names have triumphed in the event, including Bobby Jones, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia.

Spectators are welcome and can attend free of charge for a Championship that features two rounds of stroke play qualifying before the leading 64 players contest the match play stages.