COMPARED to England seeing Matt Fitzpatrick make his European Tour breakthrough at just 21 then Andy Sullivan becoming the first player on the circuit in 2015 to record a hat-trick of victories, Scottish golf would appear to have precious little to shout about in recent weeks.
Success, however, can be measured in different ways and, though neither David Drysdale nor Craig Lee have been able to join Fitzpatrick or Sullivan in savouring that sweet taste of victory, both have done themselves and their country proud by securing spots at the top table in European golf for another season.
In Drysdale’s case, a top-10 finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship just over a fortnight ago lifted him into the safety zone of the leading 110 on the Race to Dubai, where the Borderer was joined by Lee on Sunday after the Stirling man claimed a share of sixth position in the Portugal Masters, the penultimate regular event of the season. Lee isn’t quite safe yet, but it will be job done if he can make the cut in this week’s Hong Kong Open.
The pair deserve enormous credit, both for the way they have performed under extreme pressure and also for how they’ve conducted themselves when their jobs have effectively been on the line.
Neither Drysdale nor Lee is foolish enough to think they have a right to remain as European Tour players just because they’ve held that status for a few years now.
Both sweated bucketfuls to secure a foothold on the circuit, have each suffered pain and heartache in pursuing careers as Tour pros and know that only they and they alone can save themselves when the chips are down.
After once being a perennial visitor to the Qualifying School, 40-year-old Drysdale has now secured full playing privileges for the eighth season in a row, while Lee, two years younger than his compatriot, is on the brink of a fifth successive campaign. Neither has managed to make the breakthrough yet, but it’s certainly not down to a lack of trying and their hunger to get into that winner’s circle will only have been fuelled by a season that has required mental toughness to hold on to their cards.
Sadly, Scottish golf doesn’t have a Matt Fitzpatrick in its ranks at present and it is certainly not healthy that, of our eight current European Tour campaigners, Scott Jamieson at 31 is the youngest.
With that situation not going to change overnight, however, we need the likes of Drysdale, Lee and Chris Doak, for whom the Hong Kong event starting on Thursday is a final throw of the dice to avoid a trip to the Qualifying School, to be out there flying the Saltire along with Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay, Stephen Gallacher, Paul Lawrie and Jamieson, who has work to do himself this week to stay inside that all-important top 110.
The way Drysdale and Lee have got themselves out of holes in recent weeks – the former, remarkably, was on crutches nine days before the Dunhill Links after tearing his right calf muscle – is testimony to both and should provide food for thought about where exactly is the best breeding ground for Scotland’s Tour professionals.
We channel a lot of money and energy into the amateur game at elite level, yet Drysdale never got close to that before entering the PGA programme at Dunbar while Lee, albeit winning the Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play Championship while cutting his competitive teeth, also used the Tartan Tour to toughen himself up after having to take a couple of steps back when his first season on the European Tour in 2007 proved a reality check.
Don’t get me wrong. Here’s hoping that Scott Henry, Bradley Neil, Grant Forrest, Ewen Ferguson, Jack McDonald and Robert MacIntyre all eventually reap the rewards of valuable support they’ve received over the years from Scottish Golf through backing from the likes of Aberdeen Asset Management in particular. It does make you wonder, though, if a Paul O’Hara, Neil Fenwick, Gavin Hay or Keir McNicoll, just some of the current crop of young Tartan Tour talent, might have an equally good chance of raising their games to European Tour standard with the right support at this particular stage in their careers.