SCOTLAND’S leading amateur golfers have been earmarked for some “tough love” after the nationa body’s performance manager was left “embarrassed” by a recent performance on the world stage.
Unveiling a new men’s squad structure at St Andrews yesterday, Steve Paulding pulled no punches in letting the players selected know what the Scottish Golf Union expects from them in terms of effort and commitment.
It will be “three strikes and out” as the organisation bids to ensure that promising young players are making the most of the coaching and career development opportunities being made available to them – at a significant cost.
The new hardline policy comes in the wake of Scotland, the 2008 winners, finishing a dismal joint 44th, below the likes of Guatemala, Puerto Rico and the Russian Federation, in the Eisenhower Trophy last month.
“For three days out in Turkey I was embarrassed to wear a Scotland top,” said Paulding of an effort that saw a team comprising of Graeme Robertson, Paul Shields and Matthew Clark finish 40 shots behind the record-breaking American winners.
“They all consistently underperformed and we never want a Scotland team to do that again,” he added. “Countries all around the world are enhancing their golf programmes due to the sport being re-introduced to the Olympics, so we need to raise our game for the next Eisenhower Trophy in Japan.”
Paulding, the man who put Great Britain on track for cycling glory at the Sydney Olympics in his role as team manager, said he is now set to oversee a “slightly different regime”. It will be based, he revealed, on how Dave Brailsford and Charles van Commenee, two of his fellow performance experts, have operated in bringing increased success to British cycling and athletics respectively in recent years.
“The approach we are taking in a bid to move things on – and I make no apology for this – is going to be tougher and, in doing so, I think we will crack a few eggs along the way,” said Paulding, who has been in his role for just over three years.
This season saw Scotland win the Home Internationals for the first time in six years but, although pleased for the players who achieved that feat at Glasgow Gailes, Paulding is looking to land bigger prizes.
“Just before I started, we had just won the Eisenhower Trophy and the European Team Championship. Since then results in events like those have not gone the right way. We are doing well enough so I have to challenge myself.
“With the best will in the world, I don’t really care if we win the Home Internationals. It showed a good level of strength and depth but you can win that with a mixture of mediocre and average players. What I need is players that can win at European and international level.”
In a bid to achieve that, the SGU’s squad structure has been revamped. It now consists of a slimmed-down performance squad – Clark and Robertson are joined in that by Ross Bell, Jack McDonald, Fraser McKenna and James White for the 2012-13 campaign – and an 18-strong transitional squad.
The latter includes Scottish champion Grant Forrest – he’d surely have been in the performance squad if it wasn’t for the fact he’s at college in America – and Graham Gordon, a former winner of the SGU’s flagship event and now a reinstated amateur after a spell in the paid ranks.
Brian Soutar, winner of the South African Amateur Championship but now back working as a welding inspector having put his golfing career on hold, is a notable absentee from both squads, as is Greig Marchbank, the reigning Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play champion.
Marchbank turned down the offer of a spot, presumably in the performance squad, after deciding he wanted to do things his own way, a move that has the backing of both Paulding and Stephen Docherty, the SGU’s performance director, as they strive to involve players who are prepared to put in the hard graft they are going to demand from now on.
“The SGU hasn’t been a soft touch, but it needs stepped up to another level,” said Paulding while Docherty described the change of approach as “reality” and insisted “there was nothing wrong with a bit of tough love”.