OPINION

"Shaun Murphy is wrong. Amateurs do belong in pro sport. Look at golf.”

Shaun Murphy Shane Lowry

He had just shot an 84 but Shaun Murphy was grinning from ear to ear. 

Playing in a regional qualifier for the 2019 Open Championship, the 2005 snooker world champion described shooting 12-over at County Louth as “one of the best experiences of my life”.  

“I woke up this morning and I had the same butterflies and buzz that I’d have before a big match in snooker,” he beamed. “It’s just been an absolute thrill to take part. It was completely out of my comfort zone. I’m much more of a social golfer. I’ve never played any tournament golf ever bar the odd medal in my club, so that kind of puts this in perspective.” 

Quite.

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It also lends some to comments Murphy made yesterday after losing in the first round of the UK (snooker) Championship to Chinese amateur Si Jiahui.  

"I am going to sound like a grumpy old man but that young man shouldn't be in the tournament," he complained. "It is not fair, it is not right. I feel extremely hard done by that I have lost to someone who shouldn't even be in the building. 

"I don't know why we as a sport allow amateurs to compete in professional tournaments. This is our livelihood. This is our living. We are self-employed individuals and not contracted sportsmen. We don't play for a team.

"The other 127 runners and riders in the tournament, it is their livelihood too. It is wrong, in my opinion, to walk into somebody who is not playing with the same pressures and concerns I am.”

He added: “He played like a man who does not have a care in the world.”

A bit like, say, a man playing in a regional qualifier for the biggest and oldest professional event in golf?

It would be easy to point out the double-standards in Murphy's post-match whines but, frankly, what's the point? He’s already done that for us.

Instead, let’s focus on why he is wrong.

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Golf, as demonstrated by his Open qualifying soirée, is a wonderful example of how people who don’t make their livings from the sport can try to compete with those who do.

Bobby Jones, one of the greatest golfers of all time, never turned professional. He retained his amateur status throughout his career but was still good enough to win the US Open four times and the Open on three occasions. That he was a lawyer by “profession” is often lost from the history books. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Who he was and how he made his living is far less important than what he did.

Then there’s Francis Ouimet, whose remarkable US Open victory as a 20-year-old amateur in 1913 is still talked about to this day, more than a century later.

More recently, Irish amateur Paul Dunne almost provided us with one of the great stories when he shared the lead going into the final round of the 2015 Open at St Andrews. Applying Murphy’s law, he wouldn’t have been there.

By extension, Shane Lowry wouldn’t have won the Irish Open - at County Louth, incidentally - as a 22-year-old amateur making his tour debut; Phil Mickelson wouldn’t have won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open; Lydia Ko wouldn’t have won the Canadian Women’s Open; Justin Rose wouldn’t have been allowed to thrill us all at Royal Birkdale in 1998...

The list is long, distinguished and irrefutable.

It's true in other sports, too. Every year, tens of thousands of "amateurs" compete in the Abbott World Marathon Majors, yet you don't see Eliud Kipchoge complaining. Mind you, he doesn't lose to them...

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What Murphy fails (or chooses not) to understand is that the ball – whether dimpled or struck by a chalked-up cue – doesn’t care who’s hitting it. Neither finely-mown fairways nor taut baize give so much as the slightest regard to who’s playing on them. It’s an absolute irrelevance. The simple fact is that if you are good enough, the environment you play in will amplify your talent and determine whether or not you deserve to be there.

That’s why Murphy didn’t qualify for The Open. He’s not a good enough golfer.

That’s why Si Jiahui beat him yesterday. He’s a good enough snooker player.

Whether or not you have a subscripted ‘(a)’ after your name in the tournament programme, or an asterisk next to it on the scoreboard, or the ability to cash a cheque is completely inconsequential.

Ability.

Ability is what matters.

It always has.

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