World Ranking Gets Welshman Westgate to Florida
October 4, 2015 | Vero Beach, Fla.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Over the past few months, Ben Westgate, of Wales, has been competing in his own private qualifying event.
For the second consecutive year, Westgate, 35, had set playing in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship as a goal, and he needed to solidify his ranking inside the world’s top 400 amateur players by the deadline of Aug. 19 to earn an exemption. The alternative – coming over to the United States to compete in an 18-hole sectional qualifier – was not appealing.
“This is one of the goals I set, last year and the year before,” said Westgate, a resident of Cardiff who has competed for Wales in two World Amateur Team Championships (2008, 2012) and in several Home International and European Team events. “I wanted to play one of the USGA events, and unless I played absolutely amazing, the benchmark for the U.S. Amateur is much higher.”
The top 50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) earn exemptions into the U.S. Amateur, but that is an unrealistic goal for Westgate. Even the top 400 is a struggle for mid-amateurs (25 and older) who are jostling for ranking points with college and junior players, many of whom compete year-round.
“It’s pretty tough with a job and a wife, working 50 hours a week,” said Westgate, who travels internationally for his job in the mining industry. “It’s not as if I’m sitting at a desk in the city. I was watching the Walker Cup [in mid-September] from Kazakhstan.”
Another daunting aspect of Westgate’s quest is the short season in the United Kingdom.
“We play from April through to the beginning of August,” said Westgate. “I’ve got to get in eight events [to qualify for the WAGR] in 3½ months. It’s pretty squashed. If you play great, you fly up the rankings, and if you don’t play great, you fly down the rankings. You can’t have an off event.”
The WAGR counting system bases each player's standing on their average performance over their last 28 rounds. If a player does not compete in that minimum of 28 rounds, their point-average will still be divided by 28, which in effect penalizes those players who do not meet the threshold. Depending on the category of a match-play event, points can be gained, but a player only gets a credited round and points for winning a match; no points or round are credited for losing a match.
“I played in the European Mid-Am in Germany [a 54-hole tournament at Golf Club Hubbelrath in June],” said Westgate of his quest for meeting the minimum-round requirement. “This year, for the first time, the minimum age there was 30, instead of 35.”
Westgate tied for 10th place, and he also tied for seventh in the Tucker Trophy in Wales in mid-July. He accumulated major points for two second-place finishes, in the Berkshire Trophy in June and in the Welsh Open Stroke-Play Championship in May, where he tied for second with Ashley Chesters behind Jimmy Mullen, both of whom played on the winning Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Team last month before turning professional.
“If you get on the wrong half of the draw and get awful weather, you can shoot the best possible score and still miss the cut,” said Westgate. “And the way the rankings are set up, if you miss the cut you can be worse off than if you didn’t play. It’s very hard to balance out a bad showing if you don’t play upwards of 50 rounds a year.”
Westgate stands well within the top 400 in the WAGR, at No. 228 in the latest ranking, with his most recent event before the U.S. Mid-Amateur coming in mid-August, when he competed for Wales in the Men’s Home Internationals at Royal Portrush. It was in such international competitions as a youngster that he first figured out his future in the game.
“I grew up in the era of Paul Casey and Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia,” said Westgate. “I would play in tournaments and they would be shooting 66 and I would play really well and shoot 72. You realize that you need to be significantly better if you’re going to do this for a living, and you’re not going to become significantly better if you’re that far behind already.”
Westgate was named to the GB&I team last spring for the inaugural Concession Cup, a mid-amateur and senior event in Bradenton, Fla., that is patterned after the Walker Cup. That berth gave Westgate entrée into other top-tier events.
“I had a great match in the singles at the Concession Cup with [two-time Mid-Amateur champion] Tim Jackson,” said Westgate. “Every couple of holes, he would tell me about another event I should play in. I came over for the Crane Cup [at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla.] and that was amazing as well.”
Westgate tied for 14th there last November, and he has his sights set firmly on next summer’s Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A. It will be played at Royal Porthcawl, where Westgate won the Welsh Amateur in 2008.
“It’s 20 minutes down the road from where I live,” said Westgate. “When I stand on the first tee there, I’ve got great memories of holing putts and winning matches.”
Despite bogeying his final hole for an opening 77 on Saturday on the North Course at John’s Island Club, Westgate is also finding his first USGA championship memorable.
“I was amazed at the welcome on Thursday morning when I walked in,” said Westgate. “There were more people in the clubhouse at registration than I have ever seen at a tournament in the UK.”
Westgate also quickly noted the highly competitive atmosphere of the Mid-Amateur.
“There seems to be a different edge to mid-amateur golf in America, and perhaps it stems from this championship,” said Westgate. “I have spoken to a few of the guys and the standard is quite high – they are very tuned in. It’s phenomenal for a mid-am, really. We probably don’t get anywhere near that number of entries, even for the British Amateur.”
Westgate, who turns 36 in December, got married in February to Louise, a native New Zealander who competes in triathlons after years as a competitive swimmer.
“I’m still a youngster among the mid-ams in the UK,” said Westgate. “I actually think 30 years old is kind of a perfect number [for the mid-amateur minimum age]. The guys who want to turn pro can come back then. I played with Adam Hofmann [age 26, the 2007 Pennsylvania Amateur champion] and every now and again he would hit one and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m not getting anywhere near that one.’”
Westgate is not inclined to fret about too much this week.
“You’ve got two great golf courses in Florida, in the sunshine,” he said. “It can’t get much better, really.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.