Jack McDonald may not yet have met Danny Willett but he’s certainly experienced the feelgood factor the Masters champion has created in the management company the pair both now have representing them, albeit at different stages in their professional careers.
McDonald signed for International Sports Management (ISM) less than a fortnight before Willett became the first European to win a Green Jacket since 1999, joining Darren Clarke and Louis Oosthuizen as major champions on Andrew “Chubby” Chandler’s current client list.
“That is pretty cool,” said the 23-year-old Scot of having the Masters winner as one of his stablemates. “I went down to the ISM headquarters a couple of weeks ago and there’s a real buzz about the place. There’s top players like Danny playing awesome golf and it’s great to be part of that.”
This week, McDonald is part of a Walker Cup reunion taking place more than 2,500 miles away from Royal Lytham, where Great Britain & Ireland thumped the US last September. Six members of that home team, including all three Scots – Grant Forrest and Ewen Ferguson being the others – are in the field for the Turkish Airlines Challenge, which starts today at Gloria Golf Club.
For McDonald, it’s effectively the start of his new career because, up to now, his only other event in the paid ranks was the PGA EuroPro Tour Qualifying School at Frilford Heath, where he secured a category for the third-tier circuit. That’s where he’ll be playing most of his golf this season but, having been handed this opportunity through Chandler’s strong connections with Turkish Airlines, the likeable Ayrshireman is determined to make the most of it.
“I knew when I signed with ISM that I was going to get into this event,” McDonald told The Scotsman after completing his preparations with nine holes, some of them played in some early-morning rain on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. “This feels like my first event as a professional and I’m really looking forward to it on what is a really good golf course.
“It is back to the start again for me, really. It’s like going into men’s golf when you were a junior. You don’t really know what to expect. Have I set any goals? Not big ones. It is more process goals and about how to go about things. I try and stay away from the outcome. It would just be nice to see progression, something I managed in my amateur career.”
Still in the unpaid ranks, McDonald’s compatriots, Ferguson and Forrest, are among eight amateurs in this week’s field. The duo are the first Scottish players to get the opportunity to gain ranking points for the Challenge Tour while still amateurs. Frenchman Romain Langasque, who won the Amateur Championship at Carnoustie last June, has blazed that particular trail, sitting second in the Road to Oman after the opening three events of the season.
“The worst-case scenario for me this week is getting some experience of playing in a Challenge Tour event,” admitted Craigielaw 22-year-old Forrest, Scotland’s top-ranked amateur who finished joint-fifth in the Lytham Trophy last weekend after lifting the Battle Trophy at Crail a fortnight earlier. “But, if you play well, it’s a chance to pick up some ranking points that you can take forward to next year.”
According to Ferguson, seeing some familiar faces is helping him feel relaxed rather than fazed about the prospect of taking on the pros. “It is quite strange because there are so many guys here – the likes of Dominic Foos and Pep Angles, for example – I know from playing amateur golf who have now turned professional,” said the 19-year-old from Bearsden. “I think that helps you feel comfortable in this environment.”
Ferguson, the 2013 British Boys’ champion, was encouraged by his return from a pinkie injury despite missing the cut by a shot in the Lytham Trophy. He added: “My first priority here is to try and make the cut, then kick on from there, as it is great that points that amateurs pick up now count towards a ranking for the following season. That is massive as it means you are playing for more than experience.”
A ten-strong Scottish contingent here is spearheaded by Duncan Stewart, who catapulted himself up to fourth in the Road to Oman with his maiden Challenge Tour win in Madrid last weekend. With the first one in the bag, the 31-year-old is thirsty for more. “If you win three times on the Challenge Tour in the one season, you secure an automatic step up to the European Tour,” said Stewart in showing how quickly things can change in sport, having prevailed in Spain playing on an invitation. “That is now a goal and I’ve got seven events to try and achieve that between now and the conclusion of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore.”