WHILE I’m far too long in the tooth to get carried away on a wave of excitement and make rash predictions, there is a strong belief developing that two genuine talents are set to deliver a bright future for Scottish golf.
It follows a brace of tartan triumphs in the past week: Aberdonian David Law winning the Northern Open at Murcar Links and Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil becoming Amateur champion at Royal Portrush.
Of those victories, Neil’s was undoubtedly the most praiseworthy as he became the first Scot in ten years to win the Amateur game’s Blue Riband event, yet, in my book at least, Law’s latest success deserves scrutiny first.
In short, his career is shaping up very nicely indeed. A two-times Scottish Amateur champion – he also won the Scottish Boys – the 23-year-old is making steady headway in the paid ranks.
Success certainly hasn’t happened overnight but, then again, Rory McIlroy apart, how often do we actually see that happening in the game these days? Take newly-crowned US Open champion Michelle Wie, for example. It’s taken her ten years to finally fulfil her potential.
Benefitting enormously from having an excellent mentor in Paul Lawrie, Law is working his way up the ladder. He cut his professional teeth on the third-tier Pro Golf Tour, learned how to win as a professional there and also how to handle living out of a suitcase, an aspect that is often overlooked in terms of the challenge in this sport.
Now on the Challenge Tour, Law is starting to find his feet there, too. He’s just chalked up a first top-10 finish – a timely confidence boost heading into this week’s Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore. American Brooks Koepka claimed that title 12 months ago and, of course, he finished joint-fourth behind Martin Kaymer in the recent US Open at Pinehurst.
Whether Law can get himself on to those big stages as quick as that remains to be seen, but he is undoubtably progressing – and that, surely, is the important thing.
What I particularly like about Law is that his feet are firmly planted on the green stuff. After landing his impressive Northern Open victory last week, he was asked how good he thought he could go on to be.
His reply summed up why he should be held up as one of the shining examples to the current crop of leading Scottish amateurs, including Neil. “I feel my game is progressing at the right speed,” he said. “I feel I’m improving a lot each year and, if I can keep my Challenge Tour card this season, then that would be a successful year.”
If that causes the odd eyebrow to be raised, then consider this. Michael Stewart, who lifted the Scottish Amateur title in between Law’s two triumphs and was considered a better player by the Great Britain & Ireland selectors for the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen, would love to be in his compatriot’s shoes right now.
So, too, no doubt would James Byrne, who, like Stewart, is still waiting for that spark to ignite his professional career, which is why we shouldn’t go over the top when it comes to predicting what may lie ahead for Neil.
I’ll not beat about the bush when it comes to him. At first, I thought he was way too cocky for his own good, but I’ve since discovered he’s just a young man who has enormous confidence – and there’s no substitute for that in this game.
Less than a month ago, I had the pleasure of being in the same group as the new Amateur champion as the Scottish Golf Union hosted a media day at the Duke’s ahead of it staging the European Individual Amateur Championship in August. Also in our group that day was James Bunch, who knows a thing or two about promising young amateurs. After all, he once beat Justin Rose at Muirfield in the same event event Neil has just won.
“Hasn’t Brad matured a lot?” Bunch remarked to me at one point, a comment that I certainly concurred with and kept thinking about as he edged closer to a victory in Ireland that has opened all sorts of exciting doors for the 18-year-old over the next 12 months. How good can Neil be? I don’t think he was actually asked that on Sunday and, if he had been, I’ve got a feeling his answer would be more of a headline- grabbing variety than Law’s.
He’s certainly not stupid, though, and, as the race starts to get his signature – my money would be on him joining Chubby Chandler’s stable after he struck up a friendship with Peter Uihlein in last year’s Dunhill Links Championship – it was encouraging to hear Neil acknowledging that he already knows what lies ahead if he wants to kick on from this.
“You see the amount of preparation the pros put in for major championships and that is what you have to do,” he said. “If you want the rewards that this game can offer, you need to do that. You need to put in the time and make sacrifices.”