IT’S BEEN a stellar year for Stephen Gallacher but others were left far behind in the Race to Dubai, writes John Huggan.
just when you thought it was over, it’s about to begin again. The European Tour, that is. Now that we are more than halfway through the international circuit’s 11-day (!) hiatus, the 2014-15 season is almost upon us and will kick off with the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa this coming week. All of which means it is now or never for our annual assessment of Scotland’s touring professionals. The grades are as follows:
Stephen Gallacher, 16th place in the Race to Dubai, £1,863,965
A+ As a measure of just how well the 40-year-old Gallacher performed on tour this year, his record from 27 events contains first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-place finishes. Oh, and he made it into the Ryder Cup side, too. Perhaps the only disappointment in a stellar campaign came at Gleneagles, where Gallacher was the only member of the winning European side who failed to contribute to the team’s 16∫ points total. But only the most churlish of observers would focus on such a minor blip. By any measure, this was a season to be proud of for one of the more personable and popular individuals on the European circuit. Well bowled sir.
Marc Warren, 26th, £1,285,147
A For the first time in his professional career, the 33-year-old former Walker Cup player dipped under 71 in the stroke-average statistical category. He hit more than 60 per cent of fairways off the tee, too. Another first. And in the all-important “putts per green hit in regulation” Warren achieved a career low of 1.72. So we should not be too surprised to see one of the smoothest swingers on tour finally living up to his obvious potential. Perhaps most pleasing, however, is the fact that Warren missed only six halfway cuts in 30 events. Notoriously inconsistent before this year, that vexing tendency seems also to be a thing of the past. Next stop, the 2016 Ryder Cup team?
Richie Ramsay, 43rd, £928,827
B+ A late-starter in 2013-14 because of injury and illness, the former US Amateur champion made up for lost time with a string of consistently fine performances – six times his name appeared in the top ten – highlighted by a runner-up finish in the lucrative Dunhill Links Championship. That’s the good news. The bad is that, in a modern professional game so disproportionately dominated by distance, Ramsay’s driving average is under 280 yards. Like it or not, such a number means he will inevitably find it difficult to move up to the next level. Still, no one will work harder or more determinedly to buck that trend. So you never know.
Chris Doak, 71st, £342,943
C+ There are various ways to keep one’s card on the European Tour and Doak followed the riskiest route in 2014. Towards the end of a season in which he qualified for a second successive US Open, the 36-year-old Lockerbie resident appeared to be heading back to qualifying school. A tie for fifth in the Dunhill Links Championship changed everything though. The £159,200 cheque represented almost half of Doak’s on-course annual earnings and hauled him to comfortable safety. Let’s hope his sense of relief translates into greater consistency in 2015. Missing as many as 17 cuts in 31 events tends to make life on tour a tad difficult.
Scott Jamieson, 76th, £336,365
C- There was never much danger of him losing his card, but this was a more than mildly disappointing season for the 31-year-old Glaswegian. After progressing steadily up the money list during his first three years on tour, a drop of 51 places represents at least two steps backwards. There were hints of previous form in four top-ten finishes but, too often, mediocrity was the prevailing theme. Strangely, Jamieson’s numbers in the stroke average, driving accuracy, putts per round and putts per green in regulation all showed improvement on 2013. Clearly, statistics in golf can sometimes live up to their wider reputation for disingenuousness. No matter, Jamieson will know he must do better overall in 2015. And the betting here is that he will.
David Drysdale, 102nd, £251,816
C As has been his way through much of his European Tour career, Drysdale teetered on the edge of the all-exempt cliff before just managing to regain his golfing balance. He did it in some style though. Thinking he required a birdie on the last hole in the last round of the Perth International to guarantee his playing privileges for next year, the 39-year-old Borderer did just that, holing triumphantly from 30 feet or so. Yes, a par would actually have been good enough, but – as Arnold Palmer once said – making a birdie when you really need one is perhaps the toughest thing in golf. Still, it is to be hoped that such a narrow escape leads to greater consistency in the new season.
Craig Lee, 107th, £238,580
C It took the former Scottish club-maker of the year until the final event to claim the fourth-last exempt spot for next year, but his play in the second half of 2014 merited some reward. From mid-July onwards, the 37-year-old from Stirling missed only one cut in 12 events – a stark contrast to the 12 missed cuts dotting his first 20 appearances in his third full year on tour. All of which was especially disappointing given his stellar performance over the first 54 holes in Abu Dhabi last January, in what turned out to be his only top-ten finish of the season. For all that, this was a struggle well enough fought.
Paul Lawrie, 117th, £209,526
E Yes, there are extenuating circumstances. Injury restricted the former Open champion to only 16 events. And his devotion to his eponymous junior foundation requires much of his off-tour attention. But, really, this sort of thing is just not good enough for one so obviously talented. No top tens. Six missed cuts. And a high finish of T-11 is hardly what one expects from a major winner and two-time Ryder Cup player, even if he is in his mid-40s. With time short as far as competing at the top level is concerned, Lawrie, pictured left, needs to get at least one finger out in 2015. The alternative to a return to form is a long wait until the senior tour beckons in 2019.
Peter Whiteford, 144th, £132,687
F Missing the cut in almost two-thirds of your 30 events is nearly always going to put a player in trouble. And sadly for Whiteford he failed to hit the Doak-like “home run” that would have saved his playing privileges for another season. There was a T-5 finish in the Russian Open and holding the halfway lead in his final event of the year in Australia promised much. But, in the end, he came up well short of the all-exempt top 111. Ironically, the 34-year-old Fifer was not much different from his norm statistically, although hitting only just over half of the fairways he aimed at may have been the biggest reason he was condemned to (eventual failure) at tour school.
Jamie McLeary, 152nd, £94,131
F When a player makes only 12 cuts in 32 appearances and manages a high finish of T-20, chances are he isn’t going to keep his card. And so it came to pass for McLeary, who earned his card via a top-15 finish on the 2013 Challenge Tour money list. The pity is that the 2014 season came to an end too quickly for the 33-year-old. Since playing all four rounds at the Open Championship in July, the former Eisenhower Trophy player missed the weekend in only three of 12 events. So there is clearly hope for the future – providing he can battle his way back on to the “big” tour in 2015.
Alastair Forsyth, 157th, £83,020
F This was a disappointing campaign for the two-time tour winner. Having worked his way back via the qualifying school at the end of 2013, the 38-year-old Glaswegian failed to capitalise – as many as 15 cuts missed in 24 events evidence enough of his struggles. With the absence of even one top-30 finish only underlining that fact. Forsyth did hit two out of every three greens in regulation but a driving average of just over 280 yards means his approach shots were inevitably lengthy. More than 30 putts per round confirm that he was unable to give himself enough makeable birdie putts.
Jack Doherty, 175th, £51,630
F- Sad to say, just about the only conclusion one can draw from the former Australian Amateur champion’s rookie season on tour is that he isn’t good enough. Not yet at least. In his 22 appearances, Doherty made it to the weekend only 11 times, his best finish a lowly T-32 at the Nordea Masters. The stats aren’t too pretty either, a stroke average over 72 and more than 30 putts per round confirmation that much improvement is required if the 31-year-old Ayrshire resident is to eventually make the grade at the highest level.
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