GRANT Forrest will face the Americans in this weekend’s Walker Cup showing the same steely determination that helped Michael Stewart become a first-team player at Manchester United at a time when he found himself battling for a jersey along with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Juan Sebastian Veron.
Jonathan Porteous, the head PGA professional at Craigielaw Golf Club in East Lothian, has been Forrest’s coach for around eight years. He’s also friendly with Stewart, who played for both Hearts and Hibernian after returning to Scotland after a seven-year spell at Old Trafford, and sees a distinct similarity when it comes to the desire shown by both in their respective sports.
It’s terrific the way Grant has handled things that have happened in his lifeJonathan Porteous
“There are a lot of great golfers out there, but the thing that sets the likes of Grant and the other guys in the Walker Cup teams apart is how they approach a tournament or event mentally,” said Porteous as he savoured the prospect of Forrest, his star pupil, joining two fellow Scots, Ewen Ferguson and Jack McDonald, in locking horns with the United States at Royal Lytham on Saturday and Sunday.
“They are prepared to make sacrifices to become winners in terms of their preparation, whether it is weeks or months in advance. I’m good friends with Michael Stewart and I remember when he was down at Manchester United and breaking into the first team. His mindset was very similar to Grant’s in the sense that he was competing with the best in the world. At that time his team-mates included Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Juan Sebastian Veron, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
“I see that same determination in Grant to set himself apart. His mindset is fantastic. He’s always had it and it’s terrific the way he has handled some of the things that have happened in his life (three weeks before he won the Scottish Amateur at Royal Dornoch in 2012, he lost his father, Graeme, to cancer). No-one would wish that on anyone, but it has probably made him more determined to get where he is today.”
Forrest will become the second Craigielaw player after Lloyd Saltman, who was on the same Great Britain & Ireland team as Rory McIlroy at Royal County Down in 2007, to compete in the Walker Cup – a remarkable achievement for a club that is a mere youngster in comparison to some of its neighbours on Scotland’s Golf Coast, having only opened in 2001. “We had a management meeting the other week and it was mentioned that we’d now produced two Walker Cup players,” said Porteous. “It’s incredible, really, what has been achieved by the club in a short space of time.”
From the outset, it has provided a welcoming environment for youngsters. Saltman’s career blossomed through practising and playing at Craigielaw and his successes in the amateur game fuelled Forrest’s desire to rack up titles as well at the top level. “I think we’ve got the perfect environment for juniors,” said Porteous, who will be among the Craigielaw contingent heading down to Lancashire to support Forrest in the biennial bout’s 45th staging. “They get out there and either play or practice. They see their friends get better and that’s what drives them on.
“We had that through the [Lloyd, Elliot and Zack] Saltman and Shaun McAllister era, which brought on the likes of Grant and Greg Smail. Now we are seeing Grant and Greg being the driving forces. A couple of junior members went down to the range to get Grant’s autograph the other day, so that shows the influence he’s having.”
It’s not just in the men’s game that Craigielaw has seen players taste success at national level. Last year Gabrielle Macdonald was crowned as the Scottish Women’s champion, a success she credited to competing against her male counterparts at the club. Where it is also different to most other clubs is that it has a Junior Trust, which members have an option to contribute towards with every sub renewal and any donation is matched by the Wemyss and March Estates, which own and operate the golf club and its land. “The Junior Trust has been a massive help,” admitted Porteous. “Not just from a coaching perspective because we’ve helped young members with other things as well, including buying books for a lad who was doing golf course architecture.
“I think it’s fair to say that Craigielaw stood out against the rest of the clubs on the East Lothian coast when it first opened. What we are now, however, are what a lot of clubs are aspiring to be in the game in general. It’s about being more open-minded, using the facility as best as it possibly can be and so forth. It is still a members’ golf club and focused on members primarily. It’s just a lot more relaxed.”
Among those who’d testify to that are John Collins and John Hughes, two figures from the footballing world that have spent a fair bit of time around the club in recent years. “John is fantastic and Yogi as well,” said Porteous of the golf-mad duo. “Whenever they are at the club, they are always passing on advice. John has played at the highest level, including the World Cup finals, and his experience and mentality has always been well received by the youngsters at the club. He’s a good motivator as well and players like Grant have definitely benefitted from his advice.”