Martin Dempster: Scots amateur talent is real deal

The winning Scotland team celebrate their success at the Leopard trophy. Picture: Roger Sedres
The winning Scotland team celebrate their success at the Leopard trophy. Picture: Roger Sedres
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IT WAS both shocking and inexcusable that Scotland did not send a team to Sotogrande in Spain last weekend to defend the European Nations Cup, a prize that had been secured by Scott Borrowman, Jack McDonald, Bradley Neil and Graeme Robertson at the same venue last March.

The reason for our absence, according to the Scottish Golf Union, was that the event had been moved forward in the schedule, which is true, and, therefore, clashed on this occasion with the leading players being out in South Africa on a pre-season trip.

In addition, the SGU said it was unable to get the likes of Grant Forrest and Ewan Scott released by their US colleges for such an event, so the decision was made to forget about it altogether on this occasion.

Sorry, but that is disrespectful. As the defending champions, we should have been there. It didn’t matter if we had a team that was unlikely to bring the trophy back again – for the record, it was won by a strong English team – though even with so many players scattered to the wind we could still, surely, have mustered a decent quartet.

Golf may indeed be a global game these days but, first and foremost, we need to be to the fore in amateur golf on the European scene. Yet, in a Walker Cup year, have we just tossed away any impetus from a hard-earned victory a year ago?

Only time will tell – and let’s hope not – but perhaps even more significant in that respect, not to mention trying to find our next generation of European Tour players, than winning an event like the Nations Cup, was the way last week’s Leopard Trophy panned out.

Part of the aforementioned trip to South Africa and played at Leopard Creek, venue for a regular European Tour event, a Scottish side that may, taken purely at face value, have lacked star quality, recovered from losing the first of four sessions 3-1 to hammer their hosts 15½-8½.

“Having watched three previous editions played here, I can say with some confidence that the Scottish team were really impressive at Leopard Creek,” a South African onlooker told me. “The layout there places a premium on accuracy and the key to scoring well is positioning over distance. The Scottish players really came to grips with this concept.

“They didn’t make a mountain of birdies, but rather won the race slow and steady – with solid pars, rather than birdies and the minimum mistakes. I was further impressed with the variety of shots the boys could play and their short-game skills. The Scots understand the value of a solid short game and employed this really well at this tough course.”

It should be pointed out that the South Africans, on this occasion, lacked experience but to hear such praise from a bystander backed up what a leading Scottish player on the European Tour – it’s not fair to name him – has been telling me for some time.

That the current crop of leading amateurs are “the real deal” is the gist of what he’s said and, in addition to having witnessed things with his own eyes to back that up, he’s also been hearing it from people in the know – and not, may I add, anyone that necessarily has a vested interest.

Personally, I’d prefer to see our players winning events like the Lytham Trophy, Brabazon Trophy and St Andrews Links Trophy – top 72-hole stroke-play events – than claiming victories in South Africa because it’s performances in those tournaments that really count in terms of the Walker Cup and, perhaps more importantly, when players move into the professional ranks.

At the same time, however, it is difficult to think anything other than the likes of 2013 British Boys’ champion Ewen Ferguson and Craig Ross, who won as an amateur on the PGA EuroPro Tour last year, are surely getting a great chance to become more rounded players by being part of such a trip.

“Ewen has one of the easiest swings I’ve seen, plays with seemingly no effort and has a never-say-die attitude from the first to the last,” added my South African source. “Craig is very tenacious and takes no prisoners, not even when he was quite a few shots up.”

I’m way too long in the tooth now to get carried away on waves of excitement. If I was betting man, I’d have lost a fortune by now on players I’d picked out to become potential professional stars only to see them tread water after leaving the amateur ranks behind.

However, it has to be encouraging to hear people who know their onions beyond these shores talking up Scottish golf and, if what we have been told about these players having the right attitude, then we could well be seeing an exciting new generation starting to take shape.

McCloskey is my vote for Bob Torrance award

There are two obvious contenders for the inaugural Bob Torrance Coach of the Year Award, which has just been added to the prize list for next month’s Scottish Golf Awards in Edinburgh.

In my opinion, it’s a toss up between Alan McCloskey and Kevin Craggs, with the former just getting the nod this time around but the latter almost certain to get his name on the award as well in the near future.

Why McCloskey? Well, for starters the PGA professional at Bothwell Castle now coaches Scotland’s top two players in the men’s world rankings – Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren.

A fortnight ago, both were sitting inside the top 50 and there’s little doubt they’d been helped enormously in getting there by the walking golf encyclopedia that is McCloskey.

His normal practice is to spend time with players in the build up to events. Once the gun goes off, he’s likely to be back at his Lanarkshire base. “I don’t want them to use me as their crutch,” he once told me, inferring they should be able to work things out on their own when needs be.

It’s a great idea to have an award in memory of Bob Torrance, who has been sadly missed since his passing away during last year’s Open Championship, and it seems entirely appropriate that the man earning growing respect in the game for his eye as a coach should be the first to pick up that award at the Corn Exchange on 20 March.

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