SCOTTISH golf has been accused of being “too woolly, fluffy and nice” and lacking the “cut-throat” approach that has brought Britain recent success in sports such as athletics, cycling and rowing.
The assessment of the game in Scotland was delivered by Steve Paulding, the Scottish Golf performance manager, as he revealed sweeping changes aimed at improving results in the amateur ranks.
It follows Scotland finishing tied for 44th in last year’s Eisenhower Trophy then, this season, failing to provide a single representative in the Great Britain & Ireland team for the Walker Cup for the first time since 1949.
In a bid to prevent such disappointments on the two biggest stages in amateur golf in future, the Scottish Golf Union has decided to channel more resources towards younger players, with only six out of 29 golfers earmarked for support in the 2013-14 season older than 20.
Also, in an attempt to ensure those players retain a hunger and drive them to perform consistently in top amateur events, expenses are being cut to “a bare minimum” at the start of the new season and a “bonus performance” scheme similar to the one used in England will be implemented for the first time.
The length, as well as the numbers involved, of a warm weather winter training trip to South Africa is being reduced, too, in order to give players a bit more time to acclimatise again to conditions back home.
So, rather than doom and gloom, a bright future for Scottish amateur golf is being predicted, particularly if the likes of British Boys champion Ewen Ferguson, Bradley Neil, Ewan Scott and Robert MacIntyre fulfil their promise.
“We had a dreadful Eisenhower Trophy last year and it was also disappointing that we didn’t get anyone in the Walker Cup, especially when I believe we had players capable of that but didn’t commit 100 per cent to what was needed to get them in line for selection,” said Paulding in Edinburgh yesterday.
“After losing a big group of players to the professional ranks at the same time [the likes of David Law, James Byrne, Michael Stewart and Ross Kellett], a pretty poor crop have not delivered in the last few years.
“However, there is a lot of evidence that our programme is working at the bottom end around the academies because players coming through have better attitudes and understand the culture we are trying to change.
“It has been claimed we’ve been too soft on players in the past, but there are players no longer in the squads. Not just due to the fact they’ve not failed to come up with results but also because they’ve not adhered or committed themselves to the programme. We can only do so much for players and only those with the right attitude will continue to be supported.
“We are reliant on players being self-driven and motivated and part of the reason for taking what was quite a substantial expenses budget down to a bare minimum and introduce a performance bonus for players to win additional expenses at key events is that it will encourage them to realise how important performance is and also give them a cross check of what real life is like if they want to turn professional.”
Paulding revealed he had met Ian Hutcheon, one of the Scottish amateur game’s legendary figures, to discuss comments he made in light of the Walker Cup disappointment. “But the game he played does not exist anymore, so there is no real point looking at what the past is like,” he insisted.
The future, according to Paulding, is young Scottish golfers taking a leaf out of Catriona Matthew’s book as she continues to fly the flag for Scotland on the world stage.
“Catriona has had to give up huge amounts to pursue her career as she has young children and had to spend time away from them,” he added.
“That in itself was a big sacrifice then, at 40, she realised that, to stay competitive, she had to change certain things.
“In addition to starting to work with Kevin Craggs, she asked me to work with her on fitness and, for three years, I’ve seen her show more dedication than any of the men I support and nearly all the girls as well.
“Golf has been too woolly, fluffy and nice for too long. We’ve been too soft on people – we are too scared to tell them how it is. Look at some of the sports that have been successful – the likes of athletics, cycling and rowing. They’ve got straight-talkers at the top. They’re brutal and tough and it’s cut-throat.
“It’s not going to change overnight in golf but I think there’s a big shift happening and we’re going to focus much more on youngsters.”