Hamish Grey is quietly confident that Scotland can be strong challengers for a second men’s world amateur team title next year but believes the likes of Ewen Ferguson, Grant Forrest and Jack McDonald all have their work cut out to reach the top of the professional ladder.
The trio – all members of the victorious Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham in September – have opted to stay in the amateur ranks for another season, meaning they should be eligible for the Eisenhower Trophy in Mexico next October.
Since winning that event for the first time in 2008 in Australia, Scotland have struggled to make an impact again, though ninth place in Japan last year with a team consisting of Forrest, Bradley Neil and Chris Robb was a considerable improvement on a pathetic 44th in Turkey two years prior to that.
“Sitting here now, I think we have a team that can compete in the Eisenhower Trophy and hopefully we can get a women’s team out to Mexico that can do likewise in the Espirito Santo Trophy,” Grey, the chief executive of Scottish Golf Ltd told The Scotsman.
“In addition to Jack, Ewen and Grant, we’ve got Robert MacIntyre, our Scottish Amateur champion who has won in the States since returning to his college over there, and we want competition for those three places.
“We should always have a team that is reasonably competitive, but I think every two or three times we have a world championship, we will have a team that could could win it and sometimes that might be two times in a row.”
World No 29 Forrest opted to delay his switch to the paid ranks after falling at the first stage in the European Tour Qualifying School. Thirty-fourth ranked Ferguson, who beat current world No 2 Maverick McNealy in the Walker Cup, decided not to go ahead with an initial plan to try his luck in the Q-school this year while McDonald, who is also in the world’s top 40 at 38th, didn’t enter the card scramble.
“I think it is terrific that Jack, Ewen and Grant have stayed in the amateur ranks for another year,” added Grey. “They have made mature decisions about what suits them as individuals. And, if it suits them as individuals, it is going to suit Scottish golf. Our job is to continue to help them develop and help them decide when is the best time to turn professional, if indeed that is what they do.”
Illustrated by Scott Jamieson, at 31, currently being Scotland’s youngest European Tour card holder, the home of golf has seen a generation of its players struggle to make the transition from amateur to professional.
That’s despite the support system being better than it has ever been, both in terms of the playing and coaching opportunities for players at home and abroad.
“Every country that does what we do has the same issue, whether it be France or Sweden,” claimed Grey. “Why is that? Let’s just look at the facts. We’ve just had the Rugby World Cup and, if you are trying to play for the Scottish under-20 rugby team you got to be the best in your position in a one or two-year age group. But to make it into the Scotland rugby team, you have to be the best in a ten-year age group.
“While there are a few exceptions, golf is also pretty much an age-group sport now but, if you want to make it in golf, you’ve got to be the best in 30 years as that is the playing span. It’s not just in Scotland, either. You have to be the best in the world as you need to be on either the European Tour or the PGA Tour to make a good living.
“When you look at it like that, not many are going to make the transition and it stands to reason. We’ve got a lot of very good golfers, but not a lot of them are going to make it.”
Singing from the same hymn sheet as Scottish Golf performance manager Steve Paulding, Grey insisted there is only so much the governing body can do to help players. Ultimately, he said, it comes down to them.
“There are some things we do to make people independent and manage themselves as best as possible and I heard a great quote last year from Steve Hansen, the New Zealand rugby coach. He said, ‘the better the person the better the All Black’ and I think that transfers across all sports.
“We are trying to focus on making our youngsters that better person as that will give them a better chance to fulfil their potential, though ultimately that is down to them. Talent is an overused term. It’s more down to work ethic and commitment.”