WE HAVE been reminded yet again that, while progress can be slow in the paid ranks, Scottish players with talent and an ability to win receiving support from a well-structured system can eventually reach the promised land.
At 32, Jamie McLeary is a proud holder of a European Tour card for the first time in his career after finally being rewarded for chipping away at the coalface on the Challenge Tour for the last eight years.
In tying for second in the Grand Final in Dubai on Sunday, the Peterhead-born player who lived in Fife in his amateur days but is now based in Midlothian, jumped 18 places to secure the 15th and final card up for grabs on the second-tier circuit this season.
It means that the Scottish contingent on the 2014 European Tour has been bolstered to ten, a decent-sized squad already and we’ve still got the Qualifying School to come next week.
In McLeary’s case, just like Craig Lee and Chris Doak before him in recent years, it’s been another example of someone having to be patient to achieve a goal that had always seemed a possibility.
It’s a little-known fact but, as an amateur, McLeary was ranked No 1 in Great Britain and Europe by Golfweek, the leading US-based magazine. He won the Scottish Youths Championship at Crail in 2001 – Martin Laird joined him on that roll of honour two years later – and racked up a stack of representative honours, including an Eisenhower Trophy appearance in Puerto Rico.
Unlike others who’ve made the same switch in the past seven years, McLeary was both equipped and ready to test himself in the pro ranks when he made the move in 2006, as he proved on home soil three years later by winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore.
In case you’d forgotten, Edoardo Molinari, the Challenge Tour’s dominant force at that time, finished runner-up to McLeary at Macdonald Spey Valley, where the field also included another player, Nicolas Colsaerts, who went on to find himself competing in the Ryder Cup within the space of three years.
Scott Jamieson, incidentally, was in the Highlands that year, too.
It was a triumph that could have opened doors straight away for McLeary but, in truth, it’s been a bit of a struggle for him in the intervening period. A niggling hand injury didn’t help for a spell and there have been times over the past couple of years when his frustration has been evident through posts on social media.
It was nothing but positive on Sunday night, though, and he deserved the praise being heaped on him after earning that step up to the main circuit along with the likes of Andrea Pavan, Brooks Koepka and Daan Huizing.
“I started to worry that I would never make it to the European Tour, that I was one of those guys that was really consistent but without the big finishes at the big events that I needed,” admitted McLeary. “It has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, and the older you get the more nervous you get, but I’ve got my chance now and I’m confident I’ll take it.”
It’s an opportunity he might not have earned without the support of Team Scottish Hydro, having been a member of it for the past three years.
Lee and Doak were, too, when they graduated from the Challenge Tour while Callum Macaulay, another Team Scottish Hydro player at the time, came through the Qualifying School a year ago. “We came up with this initiative as we felt it was the missing piece in the jigsaw and its success has been unbelievable,” said Iain Stoddart of Edinburgh-based Bounce Sports Management. “It wouldn’t have been possible without Scottish Hydro but, in fairness to the players, they’ve been the ones who’ve gone out and earned these opportunities on the European Tour.”
Lee has blossomed there and Doak dug deep to hang on to his card for another season.
Now McLeary has earned the chance to test himself against the big guns, too. He’s served his time in learning the ropes and all the travelling that is part of the game these days definitely won’t faze him.
With the 2014 schedule starting in South Africa in a fortnight’s time, he’ll barely have time to catch his breath but that won’t matter.
McLeary has worked hard for this opportunity and, in 12 months’ time, let’s hope that we see the likes of Andrew McArthur or Duncan Stewart, being the next Scots to come through what is proving to be a highly-productive pipeline.
O’Grady does not have his problems to seek
These are troubled times for European Tour chief executive George O’Grady, a likeable man who has gone into his shell after being unfairly treated over a perceived slip of the tongue during the Sergio Garcia controversy at the PGA Championship at Wentworth earlier this year.
Instead of sitting back and enjoying the Tour’s new Final Series, the Irishman has a number of clouds hanging over his circuit heading into its penultimate event, this week’s Turkish Airlines Open.
A disciplinary hearing, for starters, after one was ordered into Simon Dyson’s disqualification from the BMW Masters, though that incident alone is surely not the only reason such a rare step is being taken.
O’Grady has also just seen his PGA Tour counterpart, Tim Finchem, announce a new venture in China, where the European Tour has put in a lot of spadework in recent years but could now be squeezed out in the battle for sponsorship.
Oh, and he’s just been hit with another bombshell after Ernie Els said he won’t be playing in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next week due to the fact he feels a rule requiring players to play in two of the four Final Series events is “crazy”.
A year ago, on the back of the “Miracle at Medinah”, everything looked rosy in European golf and let’s hope there’s a feelgood factor there again, both before and after next year’s much-anticipated match at Gleneagles.
At the moment, though, there’s a strong sense of disharmony in the ranks and the sooner that something is done to resolve that situation the better.