A FORTNIGHT after Martin Kaymer became a double major winner, another chapter in Germany’s recent tale of golfing success could be penned in the Highlands today.
Heading into the final round of the £200,000 Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley, Englishman Andrew Johnston holds a two-shot cushion on 14-under-par, but among those in the chasing pack are a pair of Kaymer’s compatriots.
Having carded a best-of-the-day 65, Moritz Lampert is lying joint second alongside Johnston’s fellow countryman Jason Barnes (69) and Australian Terry Pilkadaris (68) while Florian Fritsch, three back after his 66, is also in contention.
For Moritz, today could be his date with destiny. With two wins in the bag already on the second-tier circuit this season – in Austria and the Canary Islands – the 22-year-old from Hoffenheim will secure instant promotion to the European Tour if he lands a third title.
It is exactly the same position American Brooks Koepka found himself in here 12 months ago and one he capitalised on, his incredible journey since then having reached a new peak when he finished fourth in the recent US Open at Pinehurst.
“We’ll see,” replied Lampert, a two-times Junior Ryder Cup player, to being asked if he felt unstoppable at the moment. “I’ve managed to put myself in contention again. I’m playing well and I feel good, so I don’t have anything to worry about.”
While Kaymer’s recent eye-catching successes, coupled with the long list of victories achieved by Bernhard Langer over the years, have certainly put German golf on the map, they have masked a failure in that country to establish any real strength in depth on the European Tour.
“There has been some criticism about that over the last few years,” revealed Fritsch of the fact that only three German players – Kaymer, Marcel Siem and Max Kieffer – hold European Tour cards. “It is understandable when you consider that Germany is the second biggest golfing federation and the sixth biggest PGA.
“In contrast to us, little countries like Denmark have 10-15 players on the European Tour, where the French also have tons of players. The fact we couldn’t get our government to guarantee eight million euros in the bidding for the 2018 Ryder Cup makes it tough, but we’ve got the Solheim Cup coming to St Leon-Rot next year and it will have a huge impact.”
Concurring, Lampert, who is attached to the venue where Carin Koch will captain Europe in that biennial bout against the Americans, added: “We have a lot of young players coming through and, by that, I mean 16, 17 and 18-year-olds – I don’t count myself as young any more. The fact we’ve now got a double major champion shows the state of German golf isn’t as bad as some people have been saying and we all work our asses off every day.”
One ahead at the start, Johnston, a 25-year-old Londoner who was on the European Tour a couple of seasons ago before seeing his career stalled by a shoulder injury, doubled his advantage with a round that contained five birdies.
“I think this is the first I’ve led going into the final round on the Challenge Tour so it will be a bit nerve-wracking,” admitted Johnston, whose nickname is “Beef”. “But I think this course suits my game and I also like it in this area of the country.”
In an event where only four players from a 23-strong Scottish starting line-up survived the cut, hopes of a home victory would appear to lie with either Greig Hutcheon or Paul McKechnie, both of whom birdied the last to sit four and five shots behind respectively. “I’ll definitely need a 65 tomorrow,” predicted Hutcheon, the 41-year-old who is attached to the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre, in assessing his chances of landing a fourth Challenge Tour title but first since 2003.
McKechnie, meanwhile, is hoping the near 300-mile round trip he made at the halfway stage to receive a lesson from his coach, Bothwell Castle-based Alan McCloskey, will continue to reap dividends. “Alan waved his magic wand and made it simple,” reported the 37-year-old Glasgwegian of him being told he had been picking up the club at take-away in his backswing.