Long-serving Scottish national golf coach Ian Rae has poured cold water on the ambitions of many players dreaming of fame and fortune in the game by insisting only those with “pedigree” have a chance of making it to the top of the ladder.
He said many modern-day amateurs switch to the paid ranks for the wrong reasons and pointed out that it takes a lot more than a “good round at Gullane or Western Gailes” to determine if a player can become a successful Tour professional.
Rae has worked closely with Scotland’s leading amateurs in a government-funded role for nearly 12 years and, in a number of instances, has been retained by players after they turned pro.
Richie Ramsay, for example, won the US Amateur Championship under the Lanarkshire man’s guidance and, with Rae still providing his sole swing advice, the Aberdonian has become a double winner on the European Tour.
Scott Henry, another of the 52-year-old’s long-time pupils, will join Ramsay on the European Tour next season after graduating off the Challenge Tour and, as a two-time Scottish Boys’ champion as well as a Scottish Stroke-Play winner, he also fits the bill as the type of player Rae would point to as a benchmark.
“We’ve got a boys’ squad, a development squad and a main squad and most of them want to turn professional but the stats tell us they ain’t going to make it,” said Rae, pointing out that only one amateur made it to the final stage of the various tour qualifying schools last year.
“It’s like the 100 metres. If you’re not doing it in under 10 seconds, there’s no point in doing it. In golf, you can shoot it round a Western Gailes or a Gullane or wherever in 66 and, all of a sudden, we’ve got this idea that we’re a great player. But a player has got to have some pedigree. Richie Ramsay, there’s a pedigree there. Rory McIlroy also had a great pedigree so it was easier to predict that he had a great chance of doing it.
“Sometimes guys come to me and say: ‘I’m going to turn pro because I can’t get into the Scottish team’. Or ‘I’m going to turn pro because I can’t get into events like the Links Trophy and the British Amateur’. If you can’t do it at that level, does that not tell you something?
“Ramsay was winning as amateur. Scott Henry won the Scottish Boys and the Scottish Stroke-Play. He did well at the Tour School in his first two years but didn’t quite knock it off. In the last two years, he’s won on the Alps Tour then on the Challenge Tour.”
Rae insists McIlroy and Matteo Manassero, both of whom found their feet straightaway in the professional ranks, are “exceptions”. The majority have to serve an “apprenticeship”.
Rae describes his own input into the careers of players like Ramsay and Henry as “small”, saying the success of any given individual is down to how hard they are prepared to work in a sport where the bar is being constantly raised.
“Richie Ramsay has everything. Scott Henry has everything. We’re only trying to help them along,” he added. “A coach doesn’t make a player. It’s the player who does that himself. If you get a player who doesn’t practice enough, doesn’t work hard enough, they’ll only get out of it what they put in.
“The word Richie uses a lot is unacceptable. If he’s having a practice session and he feels it’s not good enough, he’ll say it’s unacceptable. I wouldn’t dare say to him: ‘Oh, that’s okay Richie’. I would say: ‘You’re absolutely right, it is unacceptable, it has to be better’.
“There’s only 600 to 900 players in the world [on Tours] and on a pretty good Tour every week. So you’ve got to do something bloody special to be better than all these other guys.”
One Scot who had pedigree when he turned pro was Lloyd Saltman, who was leading amateur in the 2005 Open Championship then recorded a string of notable victories, including the Lytham Trophy.
But he has struggled to reproduce that sort of form in the paid ranks, finishing 181st in this season’s Race to Dubai, but Rae believes he is still capable of fulfilling his enormous potential.
“You don’t become a poor player overnight and I think Lloyd will still make it,” said Rae. “There are no guarantees but maybe all these trials and tribulations he’s had will make him an even better player. There’s so many guys who come through in their 30s and start taking off.”