Plant flourishes at The Open, but turning pro could be an even bigger test

As the only amateur to make the cut, Alfie Plant was assured of the silver medal at The Open throughout the weekend, but continued to use the time to prepare for turning pro in September. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

SOUTHPORT, England -- One of the many great things about The Open is its capacity for shining a light on emerging offbeat stars.

Last year we had the unmistakable character of Andrew "Beef" Johnston, who finished eighth at Royal Troon. This year's version at Royal Birkdale has seen Alfie Plant begin to make his name.

Golf fans love a guy who's a bit rough around the edges and brings a splash of colour to an environment in which too many fringe figures encourage the use of magnolia. Step forward the 25-year-old Plant, the former postman who plays with a smile on his face and the boisterous backing of a large group of family and friends.

The winner of this year's silver medal as leading amateur -- and indeed the only amateur to make the cut in the 146th Open -- comes from Bexleyheath, a working-class town on the edge of the London-Kent border, supports unfashionable soccer team Millwall, and has tried out bungee jumping, shark diving and skydiving.

Plant, his wonderfully named girlfriend Daisy Meadows, and the rest of his followers -- many of whom stayed in a nearby holiday camp and were clearly identifiable by their #TeamAlfie T-shirts -- certainly made the most of his Open debut.

"It's been absolutely amazing," the European Amateur champion told a news conference after a kiss and a hug from his dad. "It sent shivers down my spine walking up the last. I had my brother [and caddie] walking up beside me -- it was a really good feeling.

"I've been on such a high all week, and I've absolutely loved every minute of it."

Plant has stepped back at times during The Open to make sure he was taking it all in, and was confident enough by the time he reached the 18th green on Sunday to encourage the crowd to improve on an already rousing reception.

He took a selfie with Lee Westwood before the first round and has been getting as much advice as he could from the pros he has played alongside.

His followers have attracted a lot of attention, but it's also nice for fans to hear and identify with a player on this stage who sounds like one of them.

"I feel like I'm something different out there," said Plant, who hopes to secure a management agency soon and make the most of his character and the branding his dad produced this week. "I'm quite relaxed. Don't mind having a laugh and a joke."

Plant, who finished at 6-over 286 after rounds of 71-73-69-73, has joined an illustrious list of silver medal winners at The Open that includes Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. The past two lead amateurs at Royal Birkdale were Ryder Cup player Chris Wood (2008) and Justin Rose (1997), who carries U.S. Open and Olympic champion on his résumé. Success like that does not come to everyone, but what are his prospects as he prepares to turn pro?

"He doesn't look like an amateur," said Thomas Pieters, who played alongside Plant on Saturday and is only six months older but has three European Tour titles and a Ryder Cup appearance to his name. "He's in control of his game and you can tell he's comfortable. I hit it past him all day and he didn't care. He was relaxed and didn't start hitting it harder or anything.

"I was pretty impressed by how he handled the course and I don't think he missed a fairway all day. He had a lot of friends and family out there and looked like he was enjoying it, but why not? He was playing to his strengths and I think there is nothing but a good future for him."

Plant's schedule over the next two months includes the English Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur Championships and going pro in September in time for the European Tour's Qualifying School -- "a busy few months," but a period that he will approach with confidence and some guidance from his peers this week.

"[Plant] was asking a little bit for tips, and we talked about some stuff that's going to happen next year when he's pro," said Pieters, who turned pro four years ago.

"Maybe I gave him a few pointers. It's always tricky. You don't have any job security and it's always hard to play for a job."

Plant sounded commercially aware after his final round and mature enough to deal with the business side of professional golf.

However, his immediate concerns will be thanking brother Albert -- who sounded worn out by the role of caddie -- plus arranging to take his medal to the home of his beloved football club Millwall and attending the funeral of his great grandmother, who died in the past week and was in his thoughts throughout The Open.

Then he will set about repaying the faith his friends, family and local golf club have put in him. They have helped fund his adventure to this point. Now it's time to see how much this Plant can grow.