ROLL back to 2005 and Lloyd Saltman was the man in Bradley Neil’s shoes. Not as Amateur champion, admittedly, but, at that time, it was Saltman being tipped to deliver great things for Scottish golf.
In that year alone, he won two of the top events on the British circuit – the Brabazon Trophy and St Andrews Links Trophy – before claiming the Silver Medal as leading amateur in the Open Championship at St Andrews.
He could have turned professional straight after standing beside Claret Jug winner Tiger Woods at the prize-giving but opted to stay in the amateur ranks, where he won two more prestigious events – the Lytham Trophy and Irish Open Stroke-Play – two years later.
It was on the same day as Rory McIlroy – straight after the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down – that Saltman eventually left the amateur ranks, the pair, of course, having experienced contrasting fortunes since then.
While McIlroy has two major titles on his CV, Saltman’s successes have been limited to mini-Tours, the East Alliance and the World Hickory Open. He has knocked at the door a few times, both on the Challenge Tour and EuroPro Tour, but it has yet to open.
Now 28, Saltman has had to rely on an invitation to get into this week’s £200,000 Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore, where American Brooks Koepka, fourth in the recent US Open, underlined his potential in dazzling style 12 months ago.
It is only his sixth event of the season, but, following the arrival of a son – Max Jacob was born eight weeks ago – Saltman insists life could not be better and, nine years on from his eye-catching amateur exploits, has no regrets about the decision he made then.
“I had a plan and I stuck to it,” said the Archerfield Links man, who is as personable today as he was as that promising young amateur despite failing to see his career pan out as he’d have liked – so far, anyway. “Whether it was the right one or the wrong one, who knows?” he added. ”I could have turned pro and Richie Ramsay could have, too, after he won the US Amateur in ’06, but he stayed on for the Walker Cup the following year. It’s not done Richie any harm because he’s a great player and is having a great career on the European Tour.
“I watched Bradley Neil winning the Amateur Championship on TV and it was brilliant. People often say to me ‘you should have turned pro after winning the Silver Medal in ’05 but it wasn’t in my plans at that time.
“I’m here because this is where I am – not because I didn’t turn professional earlier than I did. This is the level I’m playing at just now – it’s as simple as that.
“What advice would I give to Bradley? Just keep trying to improve. He looks like a great prospect. He’s a big lad and also has a bit of a beard – I didn’t even have sideburns at 18! It was also good to see Grant Forrest, who I know from playing at Craigielaw, win the Links Trophy recently.”
While Saltman’s only two Challenge Tour starts this season both resulted in missed cuts, he led going into the final round of a EuroPro Tour event in Shropshire earlier this month and has certainly not given up hope of reaching the same dizzy heights as McIlroy one day.
“My ambitions haven’t changed,” he said on a lovely warm day in the Highlands, where he has been joined by wife Nicola and the aforementioned Max, whom, he revealed had jokingly been called “Maximus Saltimus” by a friend. “The great thing about golf is that you can change your career in one week – and maybe this can be that week for me.”
Saltman is among 23 Scots in the field for the 50th golf tournament to be supported by EventScotland as part of the Ryder Cup legacy programme, which Koepka used to devastating effect as he secured a third Challenge Tour win of the season to earn instant promotion to the European Tour.
Is there another Koepka lurking in this week’s field? Well, German Moritz Lampert, with two wins already under his belt this year, will follow in exactly the same footsteps if he lands the title on Sunday.
However, Raymond Russell, a former European Tour winner, picked out a newcomer to the paid ranks as a contender to become the next player to use the event as a stepping stone to bigger things. “Joel Stalter is a young French kid who just turned professional two weeks ago and is going to be very good,” predicted the East Lothian man.