HUGELY successful in helping players secure promotion to the European Tour since it was launched just over three years ago, the criteria for Team Scottish Hydro membership has been tweaked this season to offer another Tartan Tour stalwart an opportunity to become a late bloomer on the European Tour.
Chris Kelly, 36, has partly been included among the seven 2014 members of the support programme for Scottish professionals due to the fact he’s more likely to be available than the others to fulfil the “corporate activities” that have been built up as part of the energy company’s sponsorship.
But, having seen both Craig Lee and Chris Doak, two players he used to lock horns with on the Scottish circuit secure step ups to the European Tour with the help received from being Team Scottish Hydro members, Kelly is also viewing it as an opportunity to take his career to the same level.
“I’m not going to lie,” declared the Cawder player after joining George Murray, Andrew McArthur, Callum Macaulay, Duncan Stewart, Pamela Pretswell and Kylie Walker in the fourth group of players to be selected to receive financial and strategic support through a programme that is aimed at producing more Scottish European Tour and Ladies European Tour players.
“While it is great to watch the likes of Craig and Chris [playing on the European Tour], it’s also difficult when you have played so much golf with them and have been there or thereabouts yourself. It certainly gives you the belief that if they can do it, then you can do it as well.”
Until now, players had to either hold a Challenge Tour or Ladies European Tour card to meet the criteria and, in addition to Lee and Doak, three others – Macaulay, Jamie McLeary and Jack Doherty – have secured promotion to the top tier in European golf in recent years through being Team Scottish Hydro members.
“The last three years have certainly been a success,” noted Iain Stoddart, the programme’s project director, “and now, in a change to the dynamic, we’ve selected a Tartan Tour player as one of the members as opposed to a fifth Challenge Tour player. It’s a new twist and we will see how it works.”
Kelly, a former Scottish PGA champion, will secure some starts on the Challenge Tour this season, while a main Tour appearance awaits in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth as a reward for his Tartan Tour efforts last season.
“I did well at Wentworth once but can’t remember when, as it was so long ago,” he said of an effort that was actually in 2004 – the year Scott Drummond sprang a surprise in the European Tour’s flagship event. “What I do remember was watching Scott hole 90-foot putts on the practice green before he went out for the final round and him saying ‘I’ll be alright’ when I wished him well and me thinking, ‘yes, you probably will!’”
“I’ve had a couple of close scrapes at the Qualifying School in the past,” he added, “but, after finding it pretty tough over the last few years, hopefully this support will help me push on in 2014 and beyond.”
McArthur, a former Scottish Amateur champion, admitted the backing was “invaluable” in his bid to reach the top of the pro ladder. “I’m tired of hitting the crossbar,” he said. “But I’d probably be living on the bread line without this support and, hopefully, this will be the year that I push on.”
2014 TEAM SCOTTISH HYDRO LINE-UP
A newcomer, the 36-year-old won the Scottish PGA in 2002 and has been playing a combination of the Tartan Tour and the EuroPro Tour.
One of the original team members, the 30-year-old is receiving his third and final year’s support after losing his main Tour card this year.
Also now in his last season of eligibility, the 34-year-old has been knocking at the door in his bid to earn a step up to the European Tour.
The 30-year-old Fifer is in for a second year as he bids to return to the European Tour, where he finished joint-third in the 2011 Dunhill Links.
A member of the winning 2012 Curtis Cup team at Nairn, the 24-year-old finished 60th in her LET rookie season last year.
The other newcomer, the 29-year-old finished 20th on the Challenge Tour money-list last season, helped by a joint-second in Kazakhstan.
The 27-year-old, another of the players receiving support for a final year, having joined the team in 2012, is in her fifth season on the LET.