Amateurs who have taken on the world's best pros and won
Anyone with a passion and talent for sport dreams of playing at the highest level. Most of us get a reality check sooner rather than later and find that there is a significant gulf between being a tournament pro and an enthusiastic amateur. But just occasionally, those lines get blurred. Some sports provide an opportunity for amateurs to go up against the pros, and just occasionally, they come out on top.
Shane Lowry – golf
In the 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack, Bill Murray plays a groundskeeper who dreams of winning the Masters, even providing his own totally improvised commentary of the “Cinderella story”. It gives a hint of how 22-year old amateur Shane Lowry must have felt as he played off against Robert Rock in the pouring rain in front of a home crowd at the 2009 Irish Open at Baltray.
It went to a third play off hole before Rock cracked and Lowry tapped in for victory. He’s gone on to win bigger tournaments since turning professional, but he still maintains: “As long as I live it will be my greatest achievement in golf.”
Qui Nguyen - poker
Anyone can access the World Series of Poker but to do so, they need to battle their way through satellite poker tournaments to earn a seat at the main table. That’s exactly what Qui Nguyen did in 2016. What makes his story so compelling is that he had only ever had one previous cash win in a WSOP event, scooping $9,000 in a $1,500 buy in event in 2009. Seven years later, he swept aside the best in the world to win $8 million and a priceless WSOP bracelet with victory in the Main Event No Limit Hold'em Championship.
He has won practically nothing since, making it even more of a Cinderella story, but he has profited from healthy sales of his autobiography, From Vietnam to Vegas! How I won the World Series of Poker Main Event, which was published the following year.
Si Jiahui – snooker
Sometimes, a once in a lifetime performance by an amateur doesn’t get the credit it deserves because everyone is more focused on the beaten professional. That happened in the opening round of snooker’s 2021 UK Championship, and it was not a pretty site. As one of the sport’s leading amateurs, Si Jiahui was awarded a wild card to the tournament to replace a pro player who had pulled out. He drew 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy, and pulled off a tense victory.
Murphy launched a diatribe in the post-match press conference. He said “It is not fair, it is not right. Amateurs should not be allowed in professional tournaments. I have earned the right to call myself a professional snooker player. He hasn't done that. He shouldn't be on the table.”
Any validity that Murphy’s comments might have had was lost due to the poor timing of his remarks. He subsequently issued a public apology for “taking the shine off Si’s win.” As for Si, he earned a place on the pro circuit, although he and Murphy have yet to play one another as professionals.