LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Picking a favorite to claim low amateur honors is an annual storyline during the run-up to the British Open. Yet entering this year's championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, the guessing game doesn't necessarily involve who the R&A might give the silver medal to after 72 holes, but if it will be handed out at all.
With U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft and McCormack Medal winner Patrick Cantlay both having turned pro after the Masters and U.S. Open, thus making them ineligible for their British Open exemptions, only two amateurs are now in the field: Northern Ireland's Alan Dunbar, the British Amateur champion, and Austria's Manuel Trappel, the European Amateur winner.
Only once in the last eight years have there been fewer than four amateurs compete in the championship (2009, when Matteo Manassero finished T-13 as one of just two who competed at Turnberry). The last time no amateur made the cut at the Open Championship was in 2003 at Royal St. George's.
Given this year's thin amateur field, some have wondered whether the R&A might consider relaxing its requirement about amateurs who earned an exemption into the field still being amateurs to compete. (Augusta National and the USGA have the same requirement for the Masters and the U.S. Open.) "We have discussed that," acknowledged R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, "but I can't report that there's any imminent change in that situation."
Of the two that are competing this week, Dunbar would seem to be the more likely to make this week a four-round affair. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland (who intends to enter European Tour Qualifying School this fall) knows all about playing in trying weather conditions. He was a member of victorious the Great Britain & Ireland squad last September at Royal Aberdeen, where rain and wind were plentiful. Similarly when he won the British Amateur title last month at Troon, he claimed the title in a deluge during the 36-hole final.
"It's a big week. I'm sure I'll be nervous on the first tee but once you get settled into the round, I think I'll be able to stay focused," said Dunbar, who played a Tuesday practice round with fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, the defending champion. "I'm here to play well and hoping to make the weekend."
Alan Dunbar, 22, Northern Ireland
How he qualified: 2012 British Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 30-1
Skinny: Not unlike Kraft or Cantlay, Dunbar has had one eye on pro golf as he's wrapping up his amateur career. Dunbar intends to compete at this fall's European Tour Qualifying School. He at least has had a small taste of competing in a pro event, having played at last month's Irish Open, where he missed the cut at Royal Portrush.
Manuel Trappel, 23, Austria
How he qualified: 2011 European Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 40-1
Skinny: Knowing he was exempt into the British Open here after winning the European Amateur last August, Trappel competed in the Lytham Trophy in May, but missed the cut after shooting rounds of 74-77. And that was before the rainy spring changed Royal Lytham & St. Annes' whispy heather into thick gnarly rough.
-- Ryan Herrington