One year ago, Ashley Chesters didn’t have the 45th Walker Cup Match at Royal Lytham & St Annes circled on his competitive calendar. His plan was to use his exemption into the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake as a tune-up to European Tour Qualifying School in the fall.
A few weeks later, everything changed.
Chesters managed to successfully defend his European Amateur title, winning by three strokes on the Dukes Course at St Andrews. The victory brought about another Open Championship exemption, provided he stayed amateur. And because the 2015 championship was scheduled on the Old Course at St Andrews, Chesters, a 26, of England, couldn’t turn down the opportunity to compete on his favorite venue.
Q-School would go on hold for 12 months.
Now representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup suddenly was on his radar screen.
“I really couldn’t take off [for the professional ranks],” said Chesters. “I stayed amateur to play at St Andrews.”
It was a wise decision. A year after missing the 36-hole cut at Hoylake by a stroke, Chesters tied for 12th at 9-under 279, missing low-amateur honors by two strokes. But his performance cemented his selection to the GB&I Walker Cup Team.
Waiting a year to turn pro hasn’t hurt Chesters’ game. He might be the oldest member of the GB&I side, but he’s also the most highly ranked, coming in at No. 7 in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
That lofty position automatically exempts Chesters into the second stage of European Tour Q-School the first week of November in Spain. And he’s used elite amateur events this summer as well as The Open Championship to further hone his game. The Walker Cup, with its unique pressure, provides one last tune-up.
“I’m much more consistent,” said Chesters, who was offered a special exemption into last month’s U.S. Amateur but didn’t accept it because his sister was getting married that week. “I proved at The Open that I can play in front of large crowds.”
At 26, Chesters is a bit of an anomaly for the GB&I side. While he’s a mid-amateur (25 and older) in the eyes of the USGA, The R&A doesn’t consider a player to be a mid-am until he/she reaches 35.
Chesters said mid-amateurs are a rarity in the Amateur Championship.
The R&A conducted a Mid-Amateur Championship from 1995-2007, but discontinued it due to lack of entries and interest. Conversely, the U.S. Mid-Amateur annually generates more than 3,800 entries, and a likely Masters invitation goes to the winner. But this popular championship doesn’t attract much overseas interest, with Edward Richardson, of England, and Wolstenholme being two notables to compete in the last decade.
“I think the American model where people have been extremely successful in business and then are able to continue competing is very different to what we have here,” said GB&I captain Nigel Edwards, who competed in four consecutive Walker Cups and is captaining for the third straight time.
Multiple Walker Cups aren’t in Chesters’ long-term plans, even if he’s four years older than any of his teammates, and half the age of USA Team member Mike McCoy. He’s following the path of 2013 GB&I Walker Cup competitor Neil Raymond, who was 27 and turned professional immediately after the Match at National Golf Links of America.
After high school, Chesters considered attending a start-up golf academy in Thailand with his coach, but the school never opened. There was some talk about going to college in the U.S. before he settled on a job at a local golf club, only to see his game suffer because he couldn’t practice enough.
“When I wasn’t working, I didn’t want to play,” he said.
So his father offered him a position in the family-owned agriculture business. Nigel Chesters, a former scratch player who used to compete against two-time major champion Sandy Lyle, sells chemicals to farmers. Ashley, at first, worked 35 hours a week doing paperwork, but the hours slowly dwindled as his golf results improved.
“Now I’m hardly there at all,” he said.
Nobody can argue with his results. Not only did he claim consecutive European Amateur titles, he helped England finish sixth in last year’s World Amateur Team Championship in Japan and he reached the Round of 16 in this year’s Amateur Championship at Carnoustie.
Chesters is hopeful of gaining some sponsor’s exemptions into European Tour or Challenge Tour events leading into Q-School.
A good performance at Lytham & St Annes this week could help.
“I’m just trying to play as well as I can this weekend,” he said, “and then I’ll sort the rest out once I have done this.”