STRANGE though it may sound, one of the most heartening things I have heard in around a decade is that a leading Scottish amateur has stepped back from the precipice of the professional ranks and secured a proper job.
Take a bow Brian Soutar, a down-to-earth Fifer who has shown considerable gumption to relinqish a spot in the Scottish national squad after deciding that, in order to make ends meet, he needed to return to work as a welding inspector.
Around a year ago, I remember Soutar saying that had proved a “lucrative” occupation for him and, in actual fact, it’s what enabled the Leven Golfing Society player to raise the money he used over the past couple of years to have a crack as a full-time amateur. During that time, he won the Scottish Champion of Champions and, providing a memory he’ll treasure for the rest of his life, the South African Amateur Championship.
He also helped Scotland secure a first title triumph for six years in the Home Internationals. Yet, and this is where Soutar has shown both courage and refreshing honesty, the 28-year-old has realised what is required just to have a chance of becoming a successful Tour professional, as well as the cost involved in that, and so has put his golfing ambitions on the backburner.
In doing so, it is to be hoped that he has made a decision that will encourage more amateurs to buck a trend that has led to a group of players essentially treading water in the paid ranks over the past few years. Don’t get me wrong. Golfers need to have dreams. There are also different ways to climb to the top of the ladder. Colin Montgomerie, for example, had a glittering amateur career whereas Paul Lawrie had a handicap of five when he turned professional.
There’s no manual when it comes to playing professional golf. Most of the time it’s how an individual copes between the ears, the pressure of playing for money having proved too much of a burden for many who clearly had talent but saw that become unfulfilled.
It used to be the case, though, that amateurs with an eye on a switch to the paid ranks had, at the very least, proved themselves. By that, of course, I mean winning. Not just occasionally, either. Stephen Gallacher, Richie Ramsay and Steven O’Hara, for example, all knew what it took to get a job done long before they decided which career path they would take. In recent years, however, it seems that certain individuals have turned professional because, quite simply, it has been an avenue available to them. The advent of third-tier circuits like the PGA EuroPro Tour, for instance, has provided playing opportunities that weren’t previously available.
It, of course, proved a useful stepping stone for Scott Jamieson, who is now established on the European Tour, and Duncan Stewart has also earned a move up from that on to the Challenge Tour next term.
But there are others who have been playing on the EuroPro Tour for three or four seasons now and, quite frankly, they appear to be going nowehere. How they can afford it, with all the expenses involved, is hard to figure out.
There has to be a cut-off point surely. Keir McNicoll, a successful Scottish amateur, had a spell on the third-tier circuits after he turned pro. While he has not killed off his dream of becoming a top Tour player one day, he showed some common sense by taking a step back to enter the PGA training programme as an assistant at Gullane.
The second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School starts later this week. It will include Michael Stewart, David Law and Ross Kellett, who enjoyed amateur success in recent years and, just a year into their new careers, now have a chance to move up that ladder.
Kellett has already secured a Challenge Tour card for next season, the Motherwell man having done the right thing earlier this year by turning down a Scottish Open invitation and earning his reward with a top-five finish on the Alps Tour money-list.
It is only natural that youngsters dream of playing in majors and Ryder Cups. Yet, amateur bodies such as the Scottish Golf Union have a duty to do everything they can to encourage individuals to make the right career choices. Harsh though it may be, more now need to be told they are not going to make it as Tour professionals. “We want people to get to the highest level they possibly can but, at the same time, we want them to enjoy their golf,” said Steve Paulding, the Scottish Golf Performance Manager, as he praised Soutar over his brave decision.
Perhaps the tide is, indeed, turning. Of the side that won the Home Internationals at Glasgow Gailes in Ayrshire, it looks as though only two players – Paul Shields and Paul Ferrier – will have been lost to the Scottish amateur ranks for next season.