IT WAS Scottish golf’s nadir. Only four players flying the flag and all gone by the weekend. We’re talking about the last Open Championship at Hoylake in 2006, when it proved the blackest of weeks for the home of golf.
A poor representation to start with, it was wiped out after two rounds as Sandy Lyle, Paul Lawrie, Colin Montgomerie and Scott Drummond all missed the cut. Things can only be better, therefore, this time around. Here’s hoping anyway.
It should help that the ranks of the Tartan Army have doubled from eight years ago. Joining former champions Lyle and Lawrie are Stephen Gallacher, Marc Warren, Scott Jamieson, Jamie McLeary, Paul McKechnie and Bradley Neil.
There’s quality as well as quantity. Lyle and Lawrie can still be class acts on their day; Gallacher is up four places to 31st in the world rankings after his final-round flourish in the Scottish Open while Warren and Jamieson have barely touched the surface in terms of what they could both achieve in the game.
“I have been saying for years that Marc Warren has as much talent as anyone,” said Lawrie of his compatriot. “Whenever I get asked the question, who of the Scottish lads has the most talent, it is Marc Warren.
“Stephen Gallacher, too, has so much talent it is scary. And then you have Bradley Neil and another couple of young lads who have enough talent to kick on and win tournaments. From where we were in 2006, we have done a great job. Golf is like that. English golf went through a dip and then 18 months later they had four in the top 20. It doesn’t take much to turn it around.
“Some of the guys like Stephen Gallacher and that were encouraged to get out there and practise after seeing me kick on. I am the same after seeing Stephen progress in the last while.”
Neil, the British Amateur champion, is younger than one of Lawrie’s sons. What advice does the 1999 winner have for the Blairgowrie teenager? “It is the same as any other major tournament, the scoring is never as good as you think at majors,” he said. “There is a lot more patience required.
“If you get the chance to speak to Tiger [Woods] or Jack Nicklaus, they will tell you that scoring is never unbelievable in a major.
“It is about playing to the middle of greens and taking your punishment when you play a bad shot. That is maybe why you need to be 30-35 before you start winning. You learn as you go.
“Bradley Neil will be playing The Open for the first time and he will learn as he goes along. It takes you to be older and wiser to know to stay away from pins and pot bunkers.
“Look at Tiger when he wins the Open, he never goes in a bunker. It is strategy. There is more strategy involved in majors than any other event.”
Justin Rose certainly knows how to plot his way around a difficult golf course, as evidenced by his impressive performance in winning the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in Lawrie’s home city on Sunday.
“I played with Justin at Wentworth [in the PGA Championship] and I couldn’t believe how long he had got,” said Lawrie. “He was hitting the ball miles compared to what he used to. At the second hole he hit 3-iron iron and 5-iron. It is scary how far he is hitting it.”
Rose is heading into this week’s event with back-to-back wins under his belt. “Good golf gets confidence a bit higher and he has been feeding off it for a while,” added the Scot. “You need to get in that good frame of mind.
“When it starts going wrong as it has been for me then it is a downer all the time and you feed off it the other way. It is such a fine line between winning tournaments and missing cuts.”