He may have been appointed in early February but today is when Craig Watson gets down to the nitty gritty in his new role as Great Britain & Ireland captain. After early jousts for the leading amateurs in all corners of the globe then, more recently, some sparring in domestic events, the Lytham Trophy marks the traditional start of the season.
Coupled with events such as the St Andrews Links Trophy, the Brabazon Trophy and, of course, the Amateur Championship, it’s a tournament that makes the GB&I selectors sit up and take notice for whatever team tests that lie ahead. With the Walker Cup not on the agenda until next year, it’s the St Andrews Trophy, a biennial match against Continental Europe, that the Lytham Trophy will form part of the picture on this occasion.
Six Scots – that figure was seven before Barassie’s Jack McDonald took the plunge into the professional ranks – have made the squad being considered for that contest, which takes place at Prince’s Golf Club in Kent in July.
With Drumoig’s Connor Syme and Craig Ross from Kirkhill getting their 2016 campaigns off to flying starts by landing the Australian and South African Amateur Championships respectively, Watson has been provided some early food for thought by some of those compatriots.
It’s what happens from here, though, that is really going to count, not just for the St Andrews Trophy but also that Walker Cup clash in Los Angeles. So a first Scottish success at Royal Lytham since Lloyd Saltman did the trick in 2007 would be nice for either Syme, Ross, Grant Forrest, Ewen Ferguson or Robert MacIntyre. Greig Marchbank, the sixth Scot in the squad, is an absentee due to family matters.
Others to lay down markers for the man who took up the GB&I reins from Nigel Edwards, a two-time Walker Cup-winning captain, include Jack Hume, the latest exciting youngster to roll off Ireland’s talent conveyor belt, and Englishman Josh Hilleard. Though not in the GB&I squad, Hilleard is the man of the moment, having chalked up four wins in just 22 days as he claimed the Berkhamsted Trophy, the Faldo Series Wales Championship, the Hampshire Salver and the West of England Championship.
“I’m looking forward to watching some golf this season, even though it’s something that I’ve not been good at in the past,” added Watson, who enjoyed the highlight of his career when winning the Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s in 1997. “I know some of the Scottish boys obviously, but I don’t know the others at all. It will be good to meet them and watch how good they are.”
While Saltman’s success came almost a decade ago, Scotland has enjoyed a decent strike rate in the Lytham Trophy when you consider that Jim Farmer (1970), Charlie Green (1970 and 1974), George Macgregor (1975), Ian Hutcheon (1980), Stephen McAllister (1993), Stephen Gallacher (1995), Graham Rankin (1997), Lorne Kelly (1998) and Stuart Wilson (2003) all got their hands on it. For Watson, though, it was the one venue he never got to grips with.
“I could never fathom my way round Lytham so it will be interesting to see how they get round it these days,” said the 49-year-old. “The last time I played there was in the Amateur Championship in 2007. I got to the third hole and realised it was too difficult for me when I saw bunkers all over the place.
“I think it’s the only golf course that I’ve thought was too difficult for me. I can usually get round most of the other ones but I always found Lytham like hitting your head against a brick wall for four or five hours.”