Are fields becoming weaker in Amateur?

WHO’S hot heading into this week’s Manitoba Amateur championship?

No former champions.

Only two are entered, two-time winner Garth Collings, who’s last year’s runner-up, but he played erratically and missed the cut at the Players Cup last week.

Jamie Wilkie is also in the field, but he’s struggled to find a better game since winning in 1997.

The higher-profile news is who’s not entered.

Two-time defending champ Brad Kirton of Pine Ridge has decided to turn pro and will instead caddy for his friend and clubmate, 2009 match play champ Tyler Mancini.

“I’m going to keep up and shut up,” Kirton said.

Kirton said he decided last summer not to play the Manitoba Amateur again, but had to remain an amateur to take advantage of his exemption to last week’s Players Cup, where he shot 73-77.

“And as I found out this week, it’s a lot more competitive, and by playing (Canadian Tour) Q-school (earlier this year),” Kirton said. “It’s a new kind of monster.”

Kirton said he plans to get busy with pro competition next month.

“I’m moving on to the Dakotas Tour, learning how to play week to week, just a smaller scale of the Canadian Tour, leading up to that Q-school (in the fall),” he said.

And also taking pass on the 2009 Manitoba Amateur is former champion and restored amateur Todd Fanning, like Collings already a member of Manitoba’s Golf Hall of Fame.

Fanning finished tied for third last year at Links at the Lake with Peter More, who’s in the field.

When the players hit the course for today’s opening round at Pinawa — action is also there on Tuesday before moving to Elmhurst for the final 36 holes Wednesday and Thursday — one player with some momentum will be Pine Ridge’s Scott Loewen.

Loewen Monday qualified for the Players Cup last week and played decently, missing the cut by just one shot after firing a one-under 70 on a difficult opening day.

“I’m looking forward to it as always,” Loewen said during the Players Cup.

But looking at rivals and missing past champs, Loewen wondered which direction Manitoba’s amateur championship is headed.

“I don’t want to sound negative saying this but it almost seems like the competition depth is decreasing,” he mused.

“I definitely don’t want to make is sound like there aren’t a lot of good competitive players in the province but when you go back to competition and the intensity, if you have 20 or 30 guys who can potentially win or make the team, it becomes a horse race.”

Pinawa’s going to make the players keep strict track of their golf ball this week.

“If it’s windy, watch out, and you’ll see the field be defined more than ever,” Loewen said.

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