Generation of Scots golfers left among also-rans

Scott Henry faces an uphill battle to regain the European Tour card he held two years ago. Picture: Getty
Scott Henry faces an uphill battle to regain the European Tour card he held two years ago. Picture: Getty
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NOT since the 2006 Open Championship at Hoylake, where the sport’s home was represented by only four players and none of them survived to the weekend, has Scottish golf suffered such a miserable disappointment in the professional game.

The 27 players who earned 2015 European Tour cards at the conclusion of last week’s Qualifying School in Girona came from 12 different countries but guess which one was missing? Astonishing. Shocking. Embarrassing. Take your pick because all three are appropriate.

Coupled with the failure of any of our players to secure a step up to the main circuit from the Challenge Tour – the first time that has happened since 2006 – it means Scotland will have an eight-strong contingent on the European Tour next season.

The fact that is three less than this year is bad enough. Even more worrying is that Scottish golf has lost a generation of potential Tour players when you consider that Scott Jamieson, who turns 31 on Friday, is the youngest of that octet.

Can you believe that? In a game being dominated by a 25-year-old in Rory McIlroy, the country that is the sport’s cradle doesn’t have anyone younger than 30 holding a card for the main Tour on this side of the Atlantic.

Yet Renato Paratore, a 17-year-old Italian, and 22-year-old Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick were among those celebrating at the PGA Catalunya Resort last Thursday as they secured seats at the top table in European golf.

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At the first attempt, Paratore and Fitzpatrick have achieved what too many Scottish players, some just as talented as that duo as amateurs, have not even come close to in three years now in the paid ranks.

It’s at a time like this, for instance, that you wonder why the likes of Michael Stewart and James Byrne have struggled to find their feet since turning professional.

Both had strong games as amateurs, both went about their business with a swagger and both looked stick-ons to make the switch with comparative ease.

Neither, however, has even come close to fulfilling their potential and, sadly, they’re not alone in the 20 to 25-year-old age bracket.

Admittedly, two-times Scottish Amateur champion David Law is edging his way up the ladder and will be hoping to really kick on next season on the Challenge Tour while Ross Kellett gave a good account of himself at the Qualifying School before stumbling at just the wrong time.

The likes of former British Boys’ champion Jordan Findlay, James White, Kris Nicol and Philip McLean, however, are others we could reasonably have expected to at least have been knocking on the European Tour door and the same certainly applies to someone slightly older yet also part of that lost generation, Lloyd Saltman. It’s a mystery, really, that the 29-year-old, with all his talent, has virtually fallen off the radar in recent years.

And what about the trio that saw Scotland crowned as world amateur champions when lifting the Eisenhower Trophy in Australia in 2008? Only Wallace Booth, who made it to the final stage at the Qualifying School having already secured his Challenge Tour card for another season, is currently making headway. Callum Macaulay’s career has reached a crossroads while Gavin Dear no longer plays competitively.

Then, of course, there’s Scott Henry. If one Scottish player out there should be on the European Tour next season but won’t be, then it’s him. A card had Henry’s name on it from the moment he came close to winning the Madeira Islands Open earlier this year only for a poor second half to the Challenge Tour season to leave him there again next year.

Henry, of course, held a European Tour card two years ago and almost got into the Johnnie Walker Championship play-off won by Tommy Fleetwood.

At 27, time is still on his side but, on the back of recent events, Scotland needs him to start putting that pedal to the floor and keep it there.

Two other thoughts spring to mind in picking through the bones of our barren Qualifying School campaign. Looking at Paratore, for instance, has an opportunity been missed with Bradley Neil?

A year older than the Italian at 18, the Blairgowrie player is Amateur champion and world No 4 – two places above Paratore – yet he didn’t try his luck in this year’s card scramble.

There’s a chance that was on the advice of the Scottish Golf Union performance team as they believe Neil has work to do – improving his stroke-play performances, for instance – before he’s ready for the rigours of professional golf.

In hindsight, though, even the experience of taking part in either of the three stages of the Q-School would surely have stood him in good stead.

Also, if Clubgolf, the national junior initiative, has been the success we’re frequently told it is, then why will we be hoping that a bunch of blokes in their 30s and 40s can give Scottish golf something to shout about on the European Tour next season? It’s 11 years now since that was launched to fulfil the Scottish Government’s promise to provide every child in Scotland with an opportunity to experience golf.

If someone somewhere was going to escape the net without such a scheme being in existence – and remember Scotland is second to none when it comes to golf being in the family – then there’s been no real tangible evidence of that so far. Sorry to the enthusiastic Clubgolf staff and their army of volunteers, but that’s a fact.

All in all, it’s been a good season for Scottish golf on the European Tour. We’ve had Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren both record victories. The former, of course, also produced one of the best displays of the year under extreme pressure to secure a Ryder Cup wild card. In addition, Gallacher, Warren and Richie Ramsay all finished in the top 50 in the Race to Dubai.

Based on the Qualifying School in particular, though, it seems that below the top level our players are being found wanting as the bar continues to be raised. Are they good enough? Are they tough enough? To come up empty-handed in a campaign that involved around 40 Scottish hopefuls would appear to suggest that’s ‘no’ on both counts.

If, as they say, Scots, no matter what sport it is, are at the best with their backs against the wall, next season is the time for a whole bunch of our aspiring Tour pros to show that.

GRADUATES

HERE’S how Scotland’s eight European Tour card holders next season fared at Q-School over the years

Paul Lawrie. Age 45

The Aberdonian secured a card on his second trip to Q-School in 1991 and has never needed to return since then.

Stephen Gallacher. Age 40

Successful at the Q-School at the first visit in 1995 and passed the test twice subsequently – in 1996 and 2009.

David Drysdale. Age 39

Q-School was his second home for a spell and proved up to the test four times in ten trips, the last of which was in 2008.

Craig Lee. Age 37

In eight Q-School visits, his only success was in 2007 but graduated off the second-tier circuit in 2011.

Chris Doak. Age 36

Successful once in ten visits to Q-School – in 2008 – before graduating from the Challenge Tour in 2012

Marc Warren. Age 33

A four-times Q-School attendee, he won the Challenge Tour in 2005 and bounced straight back after losing card in 2010.

Richie Ramsay. Age 31

Missed out on his only trip to Q-School in 2007, but earned his step up from the Challenge Tour a year later.

Scott Jamieson. Age 30

Unsuccessful in three trips to Q-School, he secured his step up through the Challenge Tour in 2010.

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