Scottish Golf initiatives must hit right targets

The Team Scottish Hydro launch in 2011 promised much but use of cash is an issue. Picture: Neil Hanna

The Team Scottish Hydro launch in 2011 promised much but use of cash is an issue. Picture: Neil Hanna

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THERE’S a real sense of irony about Scotland failing to have a player under 30 holding a European Tour card for the 2015 season.

It’s come at a time, after all, when our aspiring professionals, a few anyway, receive financial backing that wasn’t around when the likes of Sam Torrance, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher were cutting their competitive teeth.

Within the last few years, two new initiatives – Team Scottish Hydro (TSH) and Scottish Golf Support Ltd (SGSL) – have provided valuable help to both male and female players in their bid to secure a foothold on either the European Tour or European Ladies Tour. But, while having such welcome projects in place is one thing, trying to make sure the money available goes to the right people is another.

Since its launch in 2011, TSH has played its part in helping both Craig Lee and Chris Doak graduate from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour then stay there, the duo having shown their potential over a period of time on the Tartan Tour but just needed that little bit of backing to reach the promised land. Its members have also included Kylie Walker, who is on course to enjoy her best season so far on the Ladies European Tour after winning twice earlier in the year.

What about SGSL, the partnership launched in 2010 with Scottish Government backing to help our players make the transition from amateur to professional? Walker also received backing from it over three years and admits she’d probably have struggled without it.

On the face of things, both initiatives have achieved what they set out to do, yet, on the back of the double disappointment of Scotland failing to produce a male graduate from either the Challenge Tour or Qualifying School in recent weeks, the onus is even greater to ensure that available resources are channeled properly in the next couple of years.

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The basic criteria for both TSH and SGSL is that players have to hold a Challenge Tour card, yet new blood in that respect has been thin on the ground over the past couple of years. Next season, for instance, it’s likely that David Law and Duncan Stewart, the two SGSL recipients this year, will be the obvious contenders for 2015.

Can anyone really argue about that? Not really. Law, a two-times Scottish Amateur champion, has made progress each season since turning professional and, as one of the country’s outstanding talents, should be supported in every way possible over the next two or three seasons. Stewart, meanwhile, retained his Challenge Tour card by surviving the four-round cut at the Qualifying School.

However, there are others that deserve to come into the frame and here’s where, on this occasion more than ever, the people involved with both TSH and SGSL really need to communicate and avoid a repeat of the situation that has seen the same player – Stewart this year, for instance – receiving backing from both.

Here, for instance, are four players that, with the same help given to the aforementioned Lee and Doak, could well be alongside them on the European Tour in the next season or two. Top of that list has to be Scott Henry. Forget the fact he’s received SGSL support in the past. If that precludes him, then delete that straight away in the criteria. He’s got the talent and game to play at the highest level in Europe. Therefore, we should be pulling out all the stops to help him get there.

The same goes for Wallace Booth. A member of Scotland’s Eisenhower Trophy-winning team in 2008, he had shoulder problems straight after turning professional. But, having regained full Challenge Tour playing rights for next season, he’s feeling confident that his career in the paid ranks is close to igniting. Struggling to secure sponsorship at present, he needs his country’s support more than ever.

Strictly speaking, Ross Kellett probably isn’t eligible for backing from either initiative next season, having fallen agonisingly short of securing a Challenge Tour card when he missed the four-round cut at the Qualifying School. But the Motherwell man did a lot better than many others to get that far in the marathon test, so let’s give him the encouragement he deserves.

And, at a time when the young blood simply isn’t there, get Paul McKechnie on one of those lists, too. It wasn’t his fault that such support systems weren’t in place when he topped the inaugural EuroPro Tour Order of Merit in 2002. If there had been, he might well be an established European Tour player by now. At 37, he’s got himself back on the Challenge Tour, and this talented individual should also be given an opportunity to see if he can get the best out of himself over the next decade.

It’s ironic, of course, that neither James Byrne or Michael Stewart have yet received SGSL backing, given that you could almost say that initiative was set up with them in mind. Neither has met the criteria so far, yet it seems harsh that Byrne may have excluded himself by turning to the Asian Tour when European doors closed on him at the start of his professional career.

At some time – maybe now, in fact – he might need his country to wrap an arm around his shoulder rather than perhaps believing that people are working against him, which certainly shouldn’t be the caseBy my reckoning, it could be the end of the road for Andrew McArthur on Team Scottish Hydro after three years. Having just been our leading player on the Challenge Tour, though, is it the right time to be casting him adrift?

Add in the likes of George Murray, Jamie McLeary and Jack Doherty – perhaps even Elliot Saltman given that he topped the EuroPro Tour Order of Merit this season as well as the likes of Neil Fenwick and Paul Shields – and there is undoubtedly talent there that the country needs to try and help because their peers around Europe don’t have to fend for themselves nearly as much.

It’s the same in the women’s game. Personally, I’d keep supporting Walker for another year or two to let her fulfil her potential. But, if that can’t happen, then Pamela Pretswell, who is making progress on the LET, should certainly continue to be backed next season and Sally Watson, too, considering she’s still in the race to be Rookie of the Year.

There’s also an argument for Vikki Laing to be brought back into the fold, but I understand that there’s only so much money to go around. That said, six players received SGSL backing in 2013 and, admittedly having to turn a blind eye to the criteria, let’s see as many on that particular list again.

Now isn’t the time to be tightening the purse strings. Do that and we’ll fail straight away to create a system that help produce a constant flow of new European Tour talent.

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