SAN FRANCISCO--College football has its Heisman Trophy jinx, where winners of the most prestigious award in the sport struggle repeating their collegiate success once they move on to the NFL. I'm a believer that amateur golf has a similar curse to deal with.
Call it the Havemeyer Hex.
Sure, Tiger Woods seems to have made out pretty well since claiming his recored third straight U.S. Amateur title in 1996. (If you like winning major championships and banking hundreds of millions of dollars.) But the gentlemen whose names have been inscribed on the Havermeyer Trophy since Eldrick's last appeared haven't shared in Woods' good fortune.
Discounting 2006 winner Richie Ramsey, who turned pro only last month, of the other 10 players to have won the amateur title since Woods just three were fully exempt on the PGA Tour in 2007--(1997), Matt Kuchar (1997), Jeff Quinney (2000) and Ryan Moore (2004). (Last week 2003 champ Nick Flanagan won his third Nationwide Tour event of the year, getting him a card for 2008.) David Gossett (1999) won a PGA Tour title but has since lost his playing status, while Hank Kuehne (1998) and Bubba Dickerson (2001) have only partial status.
"It's not an easy transition," Moore told me last year after managing to earn his card in just his first year as a professional. "It's a lot of tough golf, and [there's] great competition. Golf's a funny game. You just never know."
By comparison, of the NCAA individual winners since 1996 who have been professionals for more than a year, five of nine have full status on the PGA Tour. Meanwhile, five of seven U.S. Amateur Public Links winners, using the same criteria, are exempt tour members.
Of course when the 312 competitors arrived at Olympic Club for this week's 107th U.S. Amateur Championship they weren't going to try any less hard or be any less motivated to claim the oldest title the USGA hands out. It's safe to say Jason Kokrak, a U.S. Open qualifier this summer who played his final year of college golf at Xavier in the spring, wasn't worried about bad luck when he finished his final seven holes on the Lake course this morning to finish up the fog-delayed first round with a 69. He then went out and shot a 68 on the Ocean course to be the leader in the clubhouse at three-under 137, one stroke better than Alex Prugh. (Fifty-four players were still in the middle of their second round when darkness suspended play until Wednesday.)
Meanwhile, the publicity and recognition that goes along with winning the title remains unequalled compared to any other amateur event. And the spoils--spots in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open--are pretty enticing.
So why the post-victory problems? I posed that question before to USGA executive director David Fay and he acknowledged some players seem to change their mindset, altering their on-and off-course routines to "live up" to their new status. There's also the argument that winning a match-play event doesn't translate to success in stroke-play professional tournaments.
Whatever the reason, the fella who leaves San Francisco with the Havemeyer Trophy had best hope the folks at the USGA gives him more than merely the secured carry case to haul it in.
How about an owner's manual?