When the five-strong British ladies team boarded their flight for Australia in anticipation of playing in the annual Astor Trophy tournament in Australia last month, 18-year-old Connie Jaffrey was among them. Jaffrey is one of the newest up-and-coming women golfers just beginning what is hoped to be a stellar amateur career that will eventually take her to the next level. Her Astor Trophy coach, Elaine Farquharson-Black, hopes she takes the time to make the most of her amateur career before turning pro.
Jaffrey already has an exciting 2015 ahead of her. In 2014, she was the runner-up to Annabel Dimmock in the LGU Order of Merit final standings. Now that Dimmock has announced she has gone pro, effective immediately, Jaffrey inherits her position for the 2015 Ricoh Women's British Open as the next highest-ranking player among amateur ladies. Jaffrey is currently ranked 61st. More importantly, inheriting Dimmock's position means Jaffrey is exempt from qualifying for the British Women's Open. She is now guaranteed a spot in the competition rounds.
It turns out that what was good for Dimmock – immediately heading to the pros – is also very good for a promising young amateur who should eventually be a very good player on the pro circuit. However, it also begs a question of how soon is too soon for amateurs to turn professional. Ultimately, the question has no real answer. At what point an amateur turn’s professional depends on his or her skill level and commitment.
Playing in the States
As with so many other amateur golfers, Connie Jaffrey is ahead of the game after having played in the United States for Kansas State University. Farquharson-Black believes the experience will serve Jaffrey well in terms of being able to compete with the best amateurs in the world. Jaffrey's time in the US was made possible by United Sports Scholarships USA, a non-profit organisation dedicated to placing student athletes in competitive university sports programmes for the purposes of helping them grow both academically and athletically.
Placing athletes in competitive environments through programmes such as United Sports Scholarships is good in that it gives student athletes more opportunities to compete, learn, and train. Nevertheless, there is a downside: amateur sports are becoming increasingly more focused on preparing athletes for careers as professionals to the point that achievement at the amateur level has been diminished.
Farquharson-Black said in a recent interview to the Scotsman that she believes amateur golf programmes are now judged more by how quickly golfers turn pro than what those golfers actually achieve as amateurs. She said that one of the results of this new attitude is that promising young amateurs are rushing to turn pro more quickly.
If Farquharson-Black is right, and the evidence suggests she is, the problem is not just limited to golf. Sports in general have become incredible moneymaking machines for athletes, sponsors, and team owners. The drive to go pro is so strong, on so many levels, that every sport seems to be losing its appreciation for its amateur athletes. The most unfortunate thing about it is that most amateurs will never be paid professionals. Yet that does not mean their accomplishments as amateurs are unworthy of notice.
So, how soon is too soon for amateur athletes to go pro? That depends on the individual. The point here is that perhaps it is time for sports organisations of all stripes to step back and refocus on its amateurs. Perhaps it is time to once again recognise the accomplishments of athletes who work so hard at the amateur level but may not go pro. After all, is it not supposed to be about the love of the game?