Ben Schmidt can only find one word to describe 2019 – ‘crazy’.
Even now, that single word barely covers the drama of an incredible year.
Back in January, schoolboy Schmidt was outside the top 5,000 in the amateur rankings. He had ambitions to climb higher and the talent to make it a reality.
But at that stage the talented teenager couldn’t have spotted the top ten with the aid of the Hubble telescope. This week, though, the hard-working, but still down-to-earth Schmidt is in the lofty position of world number eight. And the England Men’s squad member is not for stopping there.
His victory in the Brabazon Trophy at Alwoodley GC at the start of June catapulted him up the rankings and into the consciousness of the wider golfing world.
Aged just 16 and the youngest ever winner of the event (1975 victor Sandy Lyle – who progressed to becoming an Open and Masters champion – was the previous youngest), Schmidt found himself in the headlines.
Yet he didn’t let it affect his rhythm. He followed up that win with victory in the Henry Cooper Junior Masters at Nizels GC later in June.
Then came the hat-trick – success in the Carris Trophy at Moor Park GC completing a memorable six weeks of golf from the teenager.
Now 17, Schmidt is widely acknowledged as one of the rising stars of not only English, but world amateur golf and the sky’s the limit for the lad from Rotherham GC.
Yet it’s a position so far removed from where he was heading into the campaign that Schmidt can only chuckle when he casts his eye back over the year and looks ahead to what lies in store in 2020.
“It’s been crazy looking back on it,” said the young Yorkshireman with a wide smile.
“And if I’m being honest the amount of success I enjoyed this year has been unexpected.
“I was striving to get myself to the next level and always had self-belief.
“But it all just clicked over the summer and everything changed for me in a matter of weeks.
“I started the season being rejected for a place in the Spanish amateur because my world ranking wasn’t high enough.
“I couldn’t tell you my exact ranking, but it was in the 5000s.
“Now I’m eight in the world having played in the US Amateur at Pinehurst and having won the Brabazon trophy.
“England won the Home Internationals too and I was proud to be a part of that squad and will continue to represent my country when offered the chance.
“Over the summer I just got on a roll.
“I came out of winter training and made a decent start to the season despite not having played competitively for a few months.
“I won the Yorkshire Boys in May which was a real boost and it progressed from there.
“Once I won that first event, I started every tournament thinking only about the win. I just had so much confidence.”
Schmidt’s potential has long been noted by observers of the English amateur game.
In 2018, he won the Boys’ County Champion of Champions and was a stalwart of the England Boys’ squad.
But 2019 saw him cruise through the gears. Schmidt also widened his horizons with that trip to Pinehurst – a very welcome bonus as part of the reward for winning the Brabazon with four rounds in the 60s.
Schmidt said: “Pinehurst was unbelievable. I loved every second of it.
“The scale of the event was massive and I found myself lining up alongside guys I had followed on social media and didn’t dare to think I would play alongside this year.
“My pal Luca was caddying for me and he was standing watching players we’d only ever seen on YouTube! It was quite weird.
“But I wasn’t overawed by the experience and learned so much even though I narrowly missed the cut.”
Now after playing in the Justin Rose Telegraph Junior Golf Championship at Quinta Do Lago later this month, America beckons again for Schmidt.
In December, he will fly to Florida and play in the South Beach International Amateur in Miami.
Over the winter he will also travel to South Africa, Australia and Spain to gain international experience in preparation for the domestic season and England team events.
Still in his sixth form at Wath Academy in Rotherham, Schmidt is grateful to his school for backing him in his golf career.
“I’m excited for 2020, but also know I need to put in a lot of hard work over the winter,” said Schmidt who has leeway to study and play as part of a schools’ scholarship programme.
“I played in a Challenge Tour event recently and I saw at close hand just how sharp these guys are from a range of 60 yards. They are unstoppable and that’s the level I need to reach.
“There are plenty of goals to look at for 2020 – I’d like to be the number one amateur if I could.
“I can’t be satisfied at where I am – I have to always look at the next level.”
Photography credit: Leaderboard