Martin Dempster: Too many turn pro and go nowhere

Ewen Ferguson has reason to feel optimistic moving to the professional ranks, but, even for him, a hard slog lies ahead. Picture: R&A/Getty
Ewen Ferguson has reason to feel optimistic moving to the professional ranks, but, even for him, a hard slog lies ahead. Picture: R&A/Getty
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IT’S time for someone to take the bull by the horns and shake sense into the army of players either wasting their time in the lower reaches of the professional game or heading there.

Once a step taken only by a selected few, there’s been a proliferation in recent years of amateurs making the switch to the paid ranks and, quite frankly, it’s getting out of control.

Take last month’s final qualifying stage of the PGA EuroPro Tour School, for example. Held at Frilford Heath, it involved more than 230 players as they scrapped it out over three rounds to get on to the British-based third-tier circuit this season.

By my reckoning, 85 gained proper playing privileges by making the cut, with the likes of Michael Stewart and Craig Lawrie, both of whom finished in the top 10, having reason to be heading into the opening event of the season at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales this week with a spring in their step.

What about the other 150, though? And those who failed to get past the first qualifying phase? How many competitive starts will they realistically get this year?

This isn’t a dig at the PGA EuroPro Tour or the other third-tier circuits around Europe, including the Alps Tour and the Pro Golf Tour. They are now established as parts of a pyramid system responsible for making the European Tour as strong as it is these days, with a constant stream of new talent coming through the Challenge Tour after cutting their teeth at the level below.

The downside of such circuits – and this is what concerns me – is that they are also breeding grounds for players who want to carry the tag of “professional golfer” yet, in truth, are wasting their time because they aren’t close to being good enough to make the step up from the first level, never mind cut the mustard at the top of the ladder.

It’s becoming rare for players to find their feet instantly in the professional game and nowhere has that been more evident than in Scotland over the past five years. Hence why our youngest European Tour players are at present a pair of 31-year-olds, Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson.

At the same time, though, there has to be a cut-off in terms of showing progress and, in far too many cases, there simply hasn’t been any evidence of that. In short, they are going nowhere fast and something needs to be done because it’s a trend that is damaging the overall state of golf.

At the top end, the amateur game is losing players at an alarming rate, only a small proportion of whom have actually shown they have the game to win at that level. There will always be the odd exception –Paul Lawrie, of course, and Ian Poulter – but only those with a pedigree of winning regularly as amateurs can realistically have a chance of making the grade in the paid ranks.

Right now, for instance, Bradley Neil, Grant Forrest and Ewen Ferguson are the three Scottish amateurs who have a basis to be feeling optimistic as they all get ready to make the move. Yet, even in their case, a long and hard slog lies ahead because feats achieved by that trio were also accomplished by other promising youngsters only for many of them to have struggled to make headway as professionals.

Somehow, we have to get back to the days when players leaving the amateur ranks are only ones with realistic hopes, not those with hollow dreams. Career amateur Nigel Edwards, the Great Britain & Ireland captain, is singing from the same hymn sheet. “It’s not that we don’t want players to turn pro,” said the Welshman, who works as director of coaching for England Golf. “We do and we want them to go on and become very successful. Players like Stephen Gallacher, Justin Rose, Danny Willett and Jamie Donaldson have all done that, as have some players on the ladies’ side. But the ones that are not successful are lost to the game, I’d say, so something – I’m not sure what – has to be done.”

In sports like football and rugby, tough decisions are normally made by other people, In an individual one like golf, dreams can be pursued as long as someone wants, provided, of course, they have funding. Too many, unfortunately, are kidding themselves and we need to try to educate the next generation of Scottish golfers better and more constructively than is the case right now.

Lady Angela is first woman to represent R&A

IT TOOK place without any fuss, focus or formality. “It’s how she’d have wanted it,” said someone in the know.

“She” is Lady Angela Bonallack and “it” was historic as the wife of Sir Michael became the first lady member to represent the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in a match.

Dubbed as a “friendly”, the Links Staff provided the opposition and this correspondent understands that Lady Bonallack was partnered by Rev Dr John Cameron.

I can’t report whether they proved a winning combination because The Scotsman respected the wishes of the R&A to stay away and, as with any matters regarding members, it declined to comment on the encounter and in all honesty, there’s nothing wrong with that. Lady Bonallack wasn’t among the seven women handed honorary memberships earlier this year following the overwhelming vote last September to bring down the club’s all-male barriers after 260 years.

Instead, she was included in another seven women – the identities of whom have not been revealed through any communication, as per the normal procedure in such matters – to receive “ordinary” membership and, in a way, it was perhaps fitting that this latest historic occasion should befall to her.

With all due respect to the others to hold the post, her husband is arguably the best-known R&A secretary there has ever been and, like Sir Michael, Lady Angela’s golfing pedigree is pretty impressive, with six Curtis Cup appearances to her name and three national titles.

It remains to be seen whether Lady Angela or any of her fellow women members will compete in club competitions going forward, but I believe her presence on the first tee at some point during last week’s Spring Meeting was appreciated, especially as she was handing out the odd sweet to competitors.