Martin Dempster: Scots’ resurgence raises standard ahead of Open

Richie Ramsay took a jump up the world rankings with his performance at Portstewart. Picture: PA.
Richie Ramsay took a jump up the world rankings with his performance at Portstewart. Picture: PA.
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Hallelujah! Scottish golf has a spring back in its step and talk about good timing. Richie Ramsay and David Drysdale, in particular, but also Martin Laird and two amateurs, Connor Syme and Sandy Scott, have handed our game the boost it badly needed heading into the most exciting fortnight on the men’s calendar.

It has been way too long since the Saltire figured as prominently as it did in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the European Tour, flying proudly after a promising start by all seven players in a seven-strong Scottish contingent at Portstewart and then really being to the fore at the finish, thanks mainly to Ramsay and Drysdale.

What terrific efforts by the duo in the final round to not only secure career-best pay-days and significant leaps up the world rankings but also, of course, qualifying for next week’s 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. That is seven Scots now in the field, which is a result given that it was only Sandy Lyle, Paul Lawrie and Russell Knox just over a week ago.

A resurgent Laird then got in through the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour before 21-year-old Syme took the tally to five after he was the joint winner of one of the final qualifiers last Tuesday, and now Ramsay and Drysdale have brightened the picture even more, which is just what the doctor ordered.

It has given us a real shot in the arm heading into this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, where Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler may be the star attractions but, at the same time, will have competition when it comes to attracting the biggest crowds if a couple of Scots are in the mix again this weekend.

There is nothing, after all, that stirs excitement quite like a home winner in events like this, as Paul Lawrie would tell you from his Open Championship success at Carnoustie, as well as a Dunhill Links triumph at St Andrews and, most recently, a victory at Gleneagles in the Johnnie Walker 
Championship.

Marc Warren won that same event in Perthshire; Stephen Gallacher emulated Lawrie’s St Andrews success in the Dunhill Links and Colin Montgomerie triumphed in the Standard Life Loch Lomond, though it is now included in the Scottish Open records after evolving into that.

To this day, people who witnessed any of those triumphs will still treasure that memory and it would be brilliant, especially for any youngsters heading to Ayrshire this weekend with their parents or friends, to experience something that only happens every now and again and in fairness, is becoming more difficult as the depth of talent in professional golf gets deeper and deeper.

The performances by Laird, Ramsay and Drysdale, in particular, over the past week or so have certainly increased hopes of Scottish success on the Ayrshire coast, where Gallacher, Warren, Scott Jamieson and Duncan Stewart will all now have an added incentive as they also try to secure Open spots in one of the last two Qualifying Series events for the game’s oldest major.

As I noted a week ago in this column, success has bred success in English golf and, while there may not have been a Scottish victor in Ireland, it was an event nonetheless that has the potential to be a turning point for all of our top professionals because, as so often happens, just one player doing something significant can definitely have a galvanising effect.

That will certainly be the case in the amateur ranks as Syme experiences the massive thrill of testing himself against the professionals, as will 19-year-old Scott after he was among four players to secure a Scottish Open spot through the weekend qualifier at Kilmarnock (Barassie). Both Syme and Scott produced polished performances to earn their exciting opportunities and it will be fascinating to see how they get on in their respective assignments. First and foremost, they should enjoy them but, at the same time, they have set up chances that could become career-defining.

With 21-year-old Bradley Neil also producing his best performance so far in the paid ranks by finishing joint second on the Challenge Tour in the Czech Republic, it has definitely been an encouraging few days for Scottish golf and let’s hope it’s a taste of things to come at both Dundonald Links and Royal Birkdale.