IT just wouldn’t be Scotland if there wasn’t some criticism flying about over one aspect or another when it comes to golf in the game’s cradle.
Just as our amateur fortunes are picking up, fingers are now starting to be pointed towards the professional game as it appears to be in the midst of a dip. Such criticism is entirely predictable, of course, because we’re a nation of moaners when it comes to the Royal & Ancient game. We could have the world No 1 and two or three major winners and still some out there wouldn’t be satisfied.
In fairness, though, questions do need to be asked on the back of a fairly diabolical effort from the home contingent in the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore last week.
From a starting line up of 23, only four players – Paul McKechnie, Greig Hutcheon, David Law and Andrew McArthur – survived the cut.
As was pointed out by one observer on scotsman.com, more Welsh players were still standing in the final two rounds after they enjoyed a 100 per cent strike rate as far as making that cut was concerned. It should be highlighted, though, that of those five Welshman, three of them – Bradley Dredge, Stephen Dodd and Rhys Davies – are all former European Tour winners, unlike anyone in that sizeable Scottish contingent.
Nonetheless, we should be seeing more than a handful of players flying the home flag when it comes to the business end of this event, the one on the second-tier circuit where many are handed a golden chance to test themselves against the emerging forces in European golf – as well as some trying to climb up the ladder again. On this latest evidence, the majority are some way short of being good enough to use the Challenge Tour as a stepping stone into the big time in Europe. “The young continental boys coming through are really good,” observed McArthur, a former Scottish Amateur champion, of the likes of highly-rated German Moritz Lampert, a two-times winner already this season and joint-second in the Highlands. “They are much more prepared and are able to step on to the Challenge Tour and compete straight away.”
It’s not just on the Challenge Tour that Scottish performances are beginning to be put under the microscope. After a purple patch, during which Paul Lawrie, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson and Stephen Gallacher all recorded victories, things have gone quiet among our European Tour contingent.
Gallacher, in fairness, is sitting tenth in the Race to Dubai, holds 37th spot in the world and has a chance of playing in a Ryder Cup on home soil, so he’s certainly doing his bit, but there’s been lots of huffing and puffing by others without signs of any real rewards.
In the year we were hoping to see two or three in contention for Gleneagles, Richie Ramsay, who, admittedly made a late start to his campaign due to an injury, is next behind Gallacher on the money-list in 79th, followed by Marc Warren (88th), Chris Doak (89th), David Drysdale (110th) and Paul Lawrie (115th). To that you can add the fact that heading into today’s Final Qualifying, only Gallacher, other than newly-crowned Amateur champion Bradley Neil, is guaranteed to be joining former winners Lawrie and Sandy Lyle in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
The difference between the likes of Lawrie, Ramsay, Warren and Jamieson compared to the majority of those licking wounds after Aviemore, though, is that they are proven winners. One of them could quite easily go out in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen next week and come out on top against a world-class field.
We’re too quick to criticise when it comes to our golfers. We want them up there challenging at the top of leaderboards week after week – and rightly so. Standards at all levels in the professional game are rising all the time, though. Players from more countries are winning, as evidenced by Fabrizio Zanotti becoming the first Paraguayan to land a European Tour title on Sunday.
Scotland, remember, suffered a huge embarrassment when losing to that nation –hardly renowned as a golfing force – in the old Dunhill Cup at St Andrews. The face of the game has changed beyond all recognition since then, however, and we’re going to get these peaks and troughs – both in the amateur and professional ranks – in Scottish golf.