AN ECLECTIC mix of Tour players, club professionals and amateurs will fight it out over the West Links at North Berwick today and tomorrow in the battle for five coveted spots in next week’s £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
The new 36-hole qualifier was the brainchild of Alex Salmond during his involvement in the Scottish Open as First Minister and he’ll be happy to see, no doubt, that it has attracted players from near and far, including one Thai-based Scot and two others that have returned from the United States.
Boasting a prize fund of £50,000 – the winner will pick up £7,500 – it is the richest event on this season’s PGA Scotland Tartan Tour, eclipsing the Scottish Championship, Northern Open and the P&H Championship. The cash on offer alone, therefore, means it is a welcome addition to the schedule.
It’s the opportunity, though, for more than 140 Scottish players to have a chance of getting into an event that will feature the world No 1, Rory McIlroy, as well as a whole host of other major winners led by Phil Mickelson, which adds an extra element of excitement to these next two days on the East Lothian coast.
In the past, spots had been handed out on an invitation basis and, in fairness, the title sponsors have always tried to give up-and-coming young Scottish professionals and amateurs the chance to test themselves in one of the European Tour’s biggest events. This way, though, is much better.
“I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to qualify for an event like the Scottish Open and hope I can make the most of it,” said Dunbar’s Neil Fenwick, who wouldn’t have been in the reckoning otherwise.
On paper, it’s the likes of Fenwick, who finished joint second in a PGA EuroPro Tour event at Montrose on Thursday, and Challenge Tour players Andrew McArthur, Jamie McLeary, George Murray, Elliot Saltman and Duncan Stewart that you’d expect to be bounding up to Gullane next week with a spring in their step after securing those spots up for grabs.
However, sport has a habit of throwing up fairytales and that’s exactly what this event would provide if the likes of Alasdair Good, the head PGA pro at Gullane, his assistant Keir McNicoll, North Berwick’s Martyn Huish or brother Oliver earned the right to be teeing it up in the Scottish Open. “It is important that we support the qualifier,” said Good. “Keir, the best player on my staff, is also playing in it and it would be great for him to play in a Scottish Open at Gullane. As it would for me and there’s been a lot of members very supportive.”
If you believe in omens, then watch out for the aforementioned Murray. Helped by a course-record 63 in the second round, the Fifer topped final qualifying for the 2013 Open Championship at the same course. Moreover, he has a track record at Gullane, having become Scottish Amateur champion there in 2004.
Paul O’Hara, heading into this event fresh from winning the Scottish Young Professionals’ Championship, is also in the field, as are two players who suffered contrasting fortunes in that qualifier for Muirfield two years ago.
West Linton’s Gareth Wright also qualified on that occasion, but Jamie McLeary agonisingly fell short. “I was leading after the first round and missed by one,” recalled the Marriott Dalmahoy man. “With five spots on offer this time, I fancy my chances if I play well over the two days.”
He just missed out in Tuesday’s Open Championship qualifying in Ayrshire, as did McArthur, who is hoping to enjoy a successful first outing at North Berwick. “I’ve not seen the course before but I’ll get through for a game on Friday to do my homework,” said the world No 269. “I feel as though I am hitting it quite decently. I just need to sharpen up my short game. £10,000 is worth winning and I’d like to play Gullane because it’s a course I really enjoy.”
Thai-based Kenny Walker, winner of the recent Scottish PGA Senior Championship at Dalmahoy, is still a very capable player, as is former Musselburgh professional Fraser Mann, while James Ross and Paul Ferrier have both travelled from America to try their luck this weekend. Having made his 500-mile journey by car from Devon, former PGA champion Scott Drummond is also among the hopefuls.
Among them, too, are five amateurs, including Calum Hill, who cut his golfing teeth at North Berwick as a Tantallon member. The event, which has VisitScotland as one of its principal sponsors, is free to spectators.
TODAY’S TOP TEE TIMES
7:30am: Martyn Huish, Keir McNicoll
8:24am: Alasdair Good, Jonathan Cliff, Chris Morris
8:51am: Norman Huguet, Jonathan Porteous, Calum Hill (a)
9:36am: Gavin Hay, Neil Fenwick, Alastair Forysth
10:48am: Chris Kelly, Scott Henderson, Louis Gaughan
11:06am: Jamie McLeary, Gareth Wright, Paul O’Hara
11:15am: Craig Lawrie, Jason McCreadie, Andrew McArthur
11:24am: Paul Shields, George Murray, Alan Welsh
11:51am: Oliver Huish, Greig Hutcheon, Jack Doherty
12:00pm: Steven Taylor, Lloyd Saltman, Greg McBain
12:09pm: Christopher Currie, Paul Wardell, Scott Drummond
1:12pm: Calum Smith, Kenneth Walker, Michael Stewart
1:30pm: Ross McConnachie, Elliot Saltman, Mark Kerr