IT’S early days and there are bigger and more important events to come.
But, in the opening few weeks of the 2014 campaign, Scotland’s amateur golfers have delivered the promising response we were all looking for after making it easy last year for the Walker Cup selectors to pick a side that lacked a single Scottish player.
On the back of some solid performances, including a third win since he moved to San Diego University, on the US college circuit, Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest has climbed to 39th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings – the highest placing by a Scot since James Byrne was making his presence felt during a spell at Arizona State.
Another exciting summer lies in store for Forrest, who won the Scottish Amateur Championship at Royal Dornoch in 2012 then qualified for the Open Championship in his native East Lothian last year, and the same goes for Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil, who is shaping up to be the most exciting young prospect to be spawned by the home of golf in the past decade or so.
Last year’s Scottish Boys’ champion, Neil had already shown through a couple of eye-catching performances in South Africa – a second and third-place finish – that he was ready to kick on this season and, based on the European Nations Cup that reached a conclusion at Sotogrande in southern Spain onSaturday, that is certainly the case.
That Scotland emerged as winners of an event that was formerly known as the Sherry Cup was undoubtedly down to a team effort and the three other members – Jack McDonald (Kilmarnock Barassie), Graeme Robertson (Glenbervie) and Scott Borrowman (Dollar) – should all be proud of their performances and use them as sprinboards for the forthcoming domestic season.
It was no surprise, though, that Robertson, who secured the triumph with a gutsy 74 in the anchor role in testing conditions, described Neil’s contribution as “awesome” on Twitter as the 18-year-old from Perthshire won the play-off with Italy after the two teams had finished locked together on 878. It takes confidence to handle such a task, especially when you are the youngest member of the team. Few teenage Scottish golfers have displayed more of that in recent years than Neil, who duly dispatched Renato Pratore with a birdie at the second extra hole.
It secured Scotland’s first win in the event since 2008, when two members of the triumphant team – Callum Macaulay and Wallace Booth – went on to add the Eisenhower Trophy. Whether Scotland can become world champions again later this year remains to be seen. But, based on the fact the England team that finished behind them in Spain included world No 2 Matthew Fitpatrick as well as Amateur champion Garrick Porteous, they can be confident of a much better performance than last time out in that event in Turkey.
“It’s been a brilliant week and we’re delighted to win a great event,” admitted Ian Rae, the Scottish national coach. “The guys played nicely all four rounds and we just hung in there. It was windy most of the week so conditions were difficult. Everyone played their part, maintained a course strategy. The players were first class, none more so than Graeme, who was our last player to come in. He had to produce a score when it counted and he made two great pars on the 17th and 18th, an awesome performance. Individually, Bradley also continued his great start to the season, as did Jack. Bradley showed great nerve to win the play-off.”
While Scottish players have recorded some notable performances on their winter training trips to South Africa in recent seasons, this performance was much more significant, based on the overall strength of the opposition.
The challenge now for the likes of Neil, who finished runner-up to Italian Guido Migliozzi in the individual event, and his three team-mates – Forrest, too, and also 2013 Scottish Golfer of the Year James Ross – is to make their presence felt in the coming months in events such as the Lytham, Brabazon and St Andrews Links Trophies.
What happened in the Walker Cup last year was embarrassing. Let’s make sure it never happens again.