BRIAN Soutar, the Fife golfer who won the South African Amateur Championship earlier this year, has turned down the invitation which that success earned him to play in the SA Open in a fortnight’s time after returning to work as a welding inspector.
Having spent a “small fortune” playing as a full-time ama-teur over the past two years, the 28-year-old Leven Golfing Society player appears to have reached a crossroads in his golfing career after asking to be left out of the Scottish national squad next season.
Earlier in the year, after he succeeded compatriot Michael Stewart as the South African title-holder, Soutar had his sights set on a first crack at the European Tour Qualifying School.
He was hoping his intended appearance in the £800,000 SA Open – Stewart played in it last year and was partnered by home favourite Ernie Els in the opening two rounds – would be the perfect preparation.
However, Soutar has now informed organisers of the penultimate event on this year’s European Tour schedule that he will not be taking up his place in a field headed by Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
“I declined it due to work commitments,” Soutar told The Scotsman, having apparently decided to put his golfing ambitions on hold after recently taking up a new job in the welding industry in Norway.
It was through working as a welding inspector that the Heriot-Watt University graduate was able to build up the pot of money that enabled him to “chase my goals and devote a few years to my golfing career” by becoming a full-time amateur at the start of 2010.
He won the 2011 Scottish Champion of Champions at Leven Links, then helped Fife record a first title triumph in the Scottish Area Team Championship, before starting the 2012 season in sensational style during a trip to South Africa as part of the SGU national squad.
Producing the best performance of his career, Soutar claimed South Africa’s most coveted amateur title by beating then Springbok No 1 Brandon Stone by 2 and 1 in a thrilling 36-hole final at Mowbray Golf Club.
“I hope to make the Scottish team for the Eisenhower Trophy and the Great Britain and Ireland team for the St Andrews Trophy,” admitted Soutar at the time. “Then, if I make it at European Tour School, I can give myself a good start back here in South Africa [playing in the SA Open].”
Back on the domestic front, Soutar played in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart before helping Scotland win the Home Internationals for the first time in six years but failed to make either the Eisenhower Trophy or St Andrews Trophy sides.
As for the Tour School, Soutar decided not to even enter, the cost of £1,350 just to tee it up in the first stage being enough of a deterrent for both him and fellow Fifer James White on this occasion.
Bringing in a steady wage again is now Soutar’s main priority and, although straight after starting his job in Norway he was still thinking about trying to fit in the SA Open, he eventually decided it was an opportunity he’d have to miss out on.
“I play as much as I can when I’m at home but I have no intention of turning professional,” revealed Soutar. “I spent a small fortune the last two years after giving up my job and had to go back to work.”
It is the second year in a row that a member of the Scottish men’s squad has made that decision at the end of the season. Twelve months ago, another Fifer, Greg Paterson, opted to stand down from the SGU programme as the St Andrews New player re-assessed his dedication to the sport in light of work commitments.
Paterson made the decision a few months after winning the Craigmillar Park Open, following in the footsteps of Nick Faldo, with a record low total at the Edinburgh course. Also a semi-finalist at the Amateur Championship in 2011, Paterson rarely played on the domestic stage this season.
Steve Paulding, the Scottish Golf Performance Manager, said Soutar’s decision to return to work was both “courageous” and “sensible”. He is also hoping it will encourage more amateurs to think twice about pursuing professional careers.
“Brian had aspirations to play full-time golf for a couple of seasons and committed himself to our programme by going on the training trips to Yas Links and South Africa last winter,” said Paulding. “He wanted to see if he could move on to the professional level but, part of the way through this year, I think he maybe realised that dream was one he probably couldn’t achieve, having seen players who’d moved on from the amateur ranks the previous year struggle a bit this season.
“He has realised that this is not going to be the career he wants to go forward with and I hope others who realise they are not going to make it as professionals come to a similar decision. I have more admiration for someone who takes a decision that enables them to enjoy golf than someone who knows they have little hope of making it but keep trying.
“What happens with them is that the game eventually loses them completely whereas Brian will hopefully stay in golf forever. This decision certainly doesn’t exclude him from squads or teams in the future.”