IT HAS been a breeding ground for future champions. Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Matteo Manassero, Nicolas Colsaerts, Suzann Pettersen and Carly Booth, to name just a few, all used the Junior Ryder Cup as a stepping stone in their golfing careers.
This year’s match, which resulted in a third successive victory for the Americans over their European counterparts, wasn’t short on talent either, featuring the likes of Beau Hossler, who has already played in two US Opens before turning 18.
Next time around, in just under two years’ time, the event is being held in Scotland, a change in what had been the normal procedure. It will take place at Blairgowrie, instead of somewhere in France, immediately before the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Forfar’s Stuart Wilson has already been appointed as the European captain, having served the first part of his two-match stint at Olympia Fields in Illinois at the end of September, and he’s hoping to have some home representation in his team in Perthshire. In truth, that will be easier said than done but, based on the last couple of years at least, there would appear to be two stand-out candidates in Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil and Clara Young from North Berwick.
For obvious reasons, Neil, a 16-year-old, has an added incentive to follow in the spikemarks of McIlroy and Co. by playing in the biennial bout. “It would be the highlight of my career as well as being fantastic for everyone at the club as they’d love to see a local player taking part,” admitted the Blairgowrie High School pupil. The local hero role aside, however, he is also one of the rising stars in Scottish golf. He won the Scottish Boys’ Under-14 Championship at Largs in 2009, then pulled off an English and Scottish double at that level the following year. This season, Neil reached the last eight in the Scottish Boys’ Championship – he still has two more cracks at that title – and was selected for Great Britain & Ireland at under-18 level against the Continent of Europe in the Jacques Leglise Trophy at Portmarnock.
He’s a young man moving in the right direction and the 2014 Junior Ryder Cup is firmly in his sights. “I just missed out on selection this year and, with two years to become a stronger and wiser player, I’m hoping I can make the team next time around,” said Neil.
His coach is Kevin Hale, the senior instructor at the St Andrews Links Trust Golf Academy. “We’ve been working together for a while and he’s helped me a lot,” said Neil. “He didn’t rip my swing apart or do anything drastic at the start. The changes he has made are aimed at benefitting me in the long term.”
Another playing a part in helping to shape Neil’s career is Glenn Campbell, the Blairgowrie greenkeeper who was crowned as Scottish Amateur champion at Southerness in 2005 and also played alongside the likes of Wallace Booth, Michael Stewart and Ross Kellett in the Scottish side that lifted the European title at Conwy in 2009.
“Glenn is someone who’s been there and done it at the highest level in amateur golf, so his advice is always helpful,” added Neil.
“Stuart Graham, a five-time Blairgowrie champion, is another person I listen to a lot, while I wouldn’t have achieved what I have so far without the help of Charles Dernie, our club professional, or my dad, Rodney, either.”
Coming from North Berwick, Young, another 16-year-old, has huge footsteps to try and follow given that Catriona Matthew, the East Lothian town’s star product, has a major on her CV, a stack of Solheim Cup appearances and is still in the world’s top 20 at the age of 43.
“That’s a hard act for anyone to follow and I’ve got a long way to go before I can even start to talk about trying to reach the same level as Catriona,” she confessed. “But it’s nice to know that I’ve already achieved some of the things she did at my age.”
Last year, Young, who is still at North Berwick High School, represented Great Britain & Ireland in the Junior Vagliano Trophy against the Continent of Europe, while she recently signed off her 2012 campaign by lifing the Scottish Girls’ Junior Champion of Champions title.
She first served notice of her potential when becoming the youngest North Berwick ladies’ champion at the age of 12, beating Diane Huish, the wife of David, the club’s long-serving and now retired professional, and has really kicked on over the past two years. “The Junior Ryder Cup is definitely a goal for me,” she said. “The fact there’s not been a Scot in the European team in the last couple of matches is definitely an added incentive and to get some experience of playing against the Americans in an event like that on Scottish soil would be fantastic.”
Her coach is Colin Brooks, the former Northern Open champion who is based at the Braids Hills Golf Centre. She also benefits from good “motivational support” from Kevin Craggs, the SLGA national coach, on training trips, a batch of which are about to take place in warmer climes.
“Two years ago I was off four or five but now I’m down to scratch, almost plus one,” said Young, who finished just outside the top 10 in this year’s St Rule Trophy, won in the past by Matthew as well as former world No 1 Annika Sorenstam.