LIKE most professional golfers, Richie Ramsay plays a numbers game, the nuts and bolts of which can be reduced to a matter of putts, pounds and ranking points. But there is one week of the year when he finds another, more meaningful source of motivation.
While European players, for the most part, tend to place majors at the forefront of their thinking, followed by the World Golf Championship events, then the PGA at Wentworth, many have a soft spot for their native Open, which somehow transcends the established hierarchy.
Ramsay, for instance, would dearly love to win this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. “If someone said, ‘would you want to win a WGC or the Scottish Open?’ you would say ‘the Scottish Open’. That’s where it comes. Outside the majors, there is nothing better than winning your home Open.”
Ramsay has been playing in the Alstom French Open this weekend, where he returned to competitive action after a month out with a hip injury. While he was hoping to contend in Paris, the real objective was to find his rhythm ahead of this week’s challenge.
“Those butterflies you get in your stomach when you are playing on a Sunday with a chance of winning... you want those every week, but you want them more in the Scottish Open. The crowds are bigger and, when you hole putts, the cheers are bigger. As a home player, there’s a level of expectation on you, which can either help or hinder you.”
Last year, Ramsay missed the cut. One of the straightest drivers on Tour, he likes the layout and the facilities at Castle Stuart, but he does not appreciate the way the course is set up, particularly its generous fairways.
“It’s got some really good holes, but it’s too wide,” he says. “It’s just not a traditional course. It’s a modern-day course where guys play week in, week out and you need to get them round. People talk about pace of play. Well, you can’t suddenly have a golf course being really narrow with lots of rough and expect the guys who play there every week to get round in reasonable time.”
His views echo those of Graeme McDowell, the 2008 Scottish Open champion, who said recently that Castle Stuart was not strong enough and that the tournament had “lost its prestige” since leaving Loch Lomond three years ago. Ramsay believes that a new strategy is needed if the tournament is to thrive in future.
“It all depends on the government, but a rotation might be something they want to look at, taking it north, south, east and west. A lot of people didn’t realise just what a fantastic event they had at Loch Lomond. There was this perception that, if you took it to a links course the week before the Open, you would get a better field, but you always got a great field, and a great course, at Loch Lomond.”
Next year, the Scottish Open will be held at Royal Aberdeen, where Ramsay grew up. He thinks that the introduction of a classic, old-fashioned venue can do for the tournament what Royal Portrush did for the Irish Open last year, when more than 130,000 spectators flocked to the North Antrim coast. “I think Royal Aberdeen will attract a better field,” he says. “It is a course that people might feel gives them a better preparation for the Open.”
Ramsay believes that the Renaissance Club at Dirleton, North Berwick – of which he is a member – is another potential venue for the Scottish Open. Now living in Edinburgh with his American wife, Angela, he loves East Lothian, which will also play host to the Open later this month. In the last few weeks, he has played Muirfield twice and walked it once.
“It’s one of the tougher courses on the Open rota because every hole changes direction. At the likes of St Andrews, you play out and back in the same wind, so it’s easier to judge your shots, but at Muirfield, it is much trickier. The wind is different on almost every hole. It has a history of producing great champions.”
It also has a habit of courting controversy, thanks to its men-only membership policy. Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has already said that he would “boycott” the Open, a gesture to which Ramsay reacted on Twitter the following day. “Salmond should just leave sport to the side and not use it as a political tool to gain votes,” said the golfer.
Ramsay is reluctant to expand on his Tweet, far less comment on Muirfield’s burning issue. “I wasn’t commenting on that issue per se. I just don’t think sport and politics mix that well. When things are brought to Scotland, for instance the Ryder Cup, it’s great for the country, but it should be great for the country because it was a team of people who brought it there. It shouldn’t be used as a tool for politics.”
Ramsay turned 30 last month. He got married last September. Wine and mountain biking are among the stress-relievers for a player who is not so highly-strung as he used to be. There is, he says, more to life than golf.
While the old Ramsay, hellbent on being the best, had no time to appreciate his achievements, the new one is proud of his two European Tour wins – in the 2009 South African Open and the 2012 European Masters, pictured below left. If his career finished tomorrow, he would be content.
Which is not to say that the ambition has gone. He is not even at his peak yet, which is why the quest continues, albeit in more realistic fashion. “I always think that a tournament will come along, a really big one like the Scottish Open or a WGC or even the Open, where things just go for you and you have a chance. A few guys have come out of nowhere to win massive tournaments, and I’d like to think I’m in that category.
“I’m not going to turn round and say I’m a multiple major champion because I honestly don’t believe that but, on the right course, if I had one of those weeks where I play to my ability, I think I can go down the stretch with someone and win a really big tournament.
“If I don’t, that’s not a failure. The failure is not trying.”