BY his own admission, Elliot Saltman needs to see his name on a leaderboard to really get the competitive juices flowing. Unable to really get into the mix, he’s been going through the motions a bit so far this season, but is hoping to have found a spark in the shadow of the Cairngorms.
A five-under-par 66 in the opening round of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore was the day’s best among a 30-strong home contingent, leaving him in joint fifth, two shots behind Gary Boyd as the Englishman set the pace in the £180,000 event.
On a day when the morning starters enjoyed near-perfect conditions before some light rain swept in after lunch, Boyd made the most of the greens being a touch softer than in previous years to card eight birdies in taking a one-shot lead over Dutchman Maarten Lafeber, Portugal’s Jose-Filipe Lima and Prom Meesawat from Thailand.
Saltman three-putted his last hole – the par-3 tenth – but had been flawless until then. “Apart from that, it was a great day,” said the Archerfield Links player after matching his best score of the season. Winner of the PGA EuroPro Tour money list last year, he’s trying to get back on the European Tour, where he played alongside his younger brother, Lloyd, in 2011. On the evidence of what he’s achieved so far since linking up with a new coach, Alan McCloskey, last autumn, it’s a possibility.
“My swing is probably better than it’s ever been since I started working with Alan and I’ve felt comfortable in every event I’ve played in this season,” said Saltman, who is hoping to secure his third Open Championship appearance when he heads to Glasgow Gailes on Tuesday for one of the final qualifying events for next month’s Claret Jug joust at St Andrews. “I really do feel that I’ve been playing well enough to get a win, but I’ve just not been putting the finishing touches to performances.”
While Saltman, who is also trying to get into the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open through the new 36-hole qualifier at North Berwick next weekend, certainly wasn’t suggesting he had been playing half-heartedly at times, he was simply being honest in admitting that he can almost switch off when he’s not in contention. “I’m a competitor,” he said. “So it’s nice when you see your name up on leaderboards as that really gets you going.”
Once hailed as England’s next big thing – he finished 50th in the Race to Dubai in his first full season on the European Tour in 2010 – Boyd is working his way back up the ladder after a rocky patch. “Basically, I had two-and-a-half years of playing rubbish after losing my card in 2012,” confessed the 28-year-old from Silverstone. “At the lowest point, I was asking myself, ‘what am I going to do now?’ although I never actually reached the stage of considering chucking it. But I was wondering, ‘is this really worth it?’ But there are more lows than highs in this game. I wasn’t enjoying playing golf anymore or practicing. But sometimes you have to look back at the good times because you don’t suddenly stop being a good player overnight.”
Henrik Stenson, of course, discovered that when he came back from a spell in the wilderness to win the money list on both the PGA Tour and European Tour and the Swede has been among those to pass on good advice to Boyd during visits to Lake Nona in Orlando.
“Henrik has experienced a couple of form slumps, so it was good to speak to someone who had been there,” added Boyd, who finished second in Switzerland last month. “We had a good chat and he said that he had evaluated everything in his game and his life and changed certain things and I’ve tried to do the same, including getting fitter and going to a new coach in January. We have been working on some good things and I am giving myself better chances. There was a big mental thing as well and there are still a few scars there. I was playing on invites at the start of the year and I have capitalised on those.”
Given that he’d been in bed with a stomach bug for two days, Jack Doherty’s three-under 68 was a fine effort, one that was matched by Jamie McLeary, the 2009 winner, Ross Kellett and Neil Henderson. On his professional debut, Blairgowrie 19-year-old Bradley Neil had to settle for a 74 but has not given up hope of landing a first pay cheque. “If I play as well from tee to green and get a few putts to drop tomorrow, I can easily shoot in the 60s,” he said. Pleased to get day one of his new career out of the way, last year’s Amateur champion added: “I’ve just got to go out and play my game now.”