WITH a Hercules flying serenely over in the morning then two Tornadoes thundering past late in the afternoon, it would have been easy to think an air show was the attraction in the Highlands yesterday.
The sight of golfing garb wherever you go in Aviemore confirms otherwise, however, and in a sport where loud has become the norm rather than an exception, two home hopefuls in the £200,000 Scottish Hydro Challenge were certainly among the brightest individuals in the opening round at Macdonald Spey Valley.
In fairness to both Greig Hutcheon (67) and Wallace Booth (68), they let their clubs do some of the talking by being the top first-day performers among a 23-strong Scottish contingent as the pace was set jointly by Englishman Jason Barnes and Chile’s Mark Tullo with matching six-under-par 65s.
Of equal interest to the Scottish golfing press in the pair’s post-round chats, however, were the fluorescent yellow baseball cap Hutcheon was sporting and Booth’s diamond-patterned trousers that looked as though they had been borrowed from John Daly’s wardrobe.
Hutcheon, a three-times Challenge Tour winner earlier in his career, has used a yellow Srixon ball, primarily on the Tartan Tour, for around six years now. The matching cap is a new addition this year, while he also now uses a fluorescent pink marker.
“The boys were taking the mickey out of me out there due to the fact I was so bright,” joked the 41-year-old after a promising opening effort that contained five birdies, three of which came in his first five holes.
“Nothing I do catches on but, that said, Ben Parker is also using a yellow ball here,” added Hutcheon, whose success since switching from the traditional white ball is indisputable.
“As for the fluorescent marker, people think they are a joke but put them down, mark your ball and come to the far side of the hole on a 30 to 40 foot putt and it stands out like a beacon. You can see everything.
“Golf is a visual game and anything that can heighten the perception of where the ball is has to be a help.”
While Hutcheon, who finished runner-up to his Paul Lawrie Golf Centre stablemate David Law in last week’s Northern Open across at Murcar Links, reckoned his score represented something “better than I played”, Booth’s opening salvo left him a tad disappointed.
“I had a good chance to shoot something lower today as I was four-under in the middle of the fifth fairway (after starting at the 11th) going for the green only to drop a shot, which I also did at my last hole,” reported the 28-year-old Comrie man.
His colourful gear is part of the Royal & Awesome collection and it is unlikely anyone would be foolish enough to try to take the mickey out of him for wearing such bright colours (bright blue yesterday, and he has five other outfits to choose from for the rest of the week).
He is a big lad, after all, though he now admits that his gym rat days – a requirement, in fairness, when he was a junior wrestling champion – were partly responsible for the shoulder injury that stalled his career after he turn professional with high hopes after helping Scotland win the Eisenhower Trophy in 2008.
“I learned my lesson the hard way so I’m a lot more aware of what I do in the gym these days,” said Booth, a renowned big-hitter but content to rein things back a bit these days.
“As a result of not trying to hit it as hard as I used to, I’ve probably lost 30-40 yards – but I’m still long enough!”
Barnes, a 30-year-old from Kent, birdied four of his last six holes in a flawless effort as he secured a share of pole position with Tullo, who was also foot perfect and clearly relishes the air in these parts, having tied for third behind Luke Donald in the 2011 Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
“It took me 30 hours to get here from Malaga,” said Tullo of his journey being hit by a French air traffic controllers’ strike.
“I was supposed to be here on Tuesday at 2pm but got here at 10pm last night.”
In the circumstances, yesterday’s activity in the Highland skies was certainly unfair on him.