WALKER Cup captain Nigel Edwards has thrown down the gauntlet to Scotland’s leading amateur golfers, challenging them to prove the world rankings wrong when the battle for places in his side to face the Americans starts in earnest today.
The Welshman, who led Great Britain & Ireland to victory in the biennial contest at Royal Aberdeen in 2011, also insisted there was nothing to stop talented teenagers Bradley Neil and Ewan Scott from becoming contenders for this year’s match at the National Golf Links of America in September.
Heading into the Lytham Trophy, which gets underway today in Lancashire, Scotland’s Walker Cup hand doesn’t look to be nearly as strong as two years ago, when James Byrne and Michael Stewart both made the side and a third home hopeful, David Law, just missed out.
While England currently have 12 players in the top 100 in the men’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and Irish strength is demonstrated by a quartet, including Edinburgh-born Reeve Whitson, sitting there as well, Scots are thin on the ground.
Grant Forrest, the current Scottish Amateur champion from Craigielaw, is the top-ranked player in 71st place, having boosted his position by winning the West Coast Conference Championship on the US college circuit a fortnight ago.
Stirling students Jack McDonald (113th) and Graeme Robertson (168th) are the only others from the home of golf inside the top 200.
“If you looked at the world rankings, most people would say that Scotland isn’t in as strong a position at the moment as it was heading into the last Walker Cup but, hopefully, a lot of players, not just those from Scotland, are going to see their games peak in the coming few weeks and then maintain their good form for the rest of the season,” said Edwards.
“I’d like to see a few more good results from Jack McDonald and Graeme Roberton as well. Now is the time for them, along with plenty of others, to stamp their authority on the season, and their careers really, because a lot of the players aiming to make this year’s Walker Cup will no doubt be looking to turn professional later in the year.
“In years gone by, the GB&I selectors were able to pick players on form shown over four to five years because they didn’t lose so many players to the professional ranks but I’ve only got Rhys Pugh left from our winning team at Royal Aberdeen.”
Having watched Pugh prove himself on one of the biggest stages at the age of 17, Edwards reckons there is nothing to stop Scott and Neil following in the young Welshman’s spikemarks this year if they can build on promising starts to the season.
Scott, last year’s Scottish Youths’ champion, caught the captain’s eye with a string of good performances in Australia, South Africa and China over the winter, while Edwards is well aware that Neil, the newly-crowned Scottish Boys’ champion, played for GB&I at under-18 level in last year’s Jacques Leglise Trophy.
“Who’s to say that Ewan and Bradley won’t be among the players to produce some special performances?” added Edwards.
“It’s up to all the players with aspirations of making the Walker Cup to let their clubs do the talking. A lot of people, not just Rhys Pugh, have proved that age shouldn’t be a barrier. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough and if I find myself taking ten players to America who are still eligible for junior golf, then so be it.”
Scott, McDonald and Robertson join 18 other Scots in the field for the Lytham Trophy, which last fell to a member of golf’s Tartan Army when Lloyd Saltman claimed victory in 2007.
Neil is also in action in Lancashire today, though for him the target is the Fairhaven Trophy, one of the top events in the junior game.
It has attracted a record 20 Scottish challengers this year, a figure that includes four girls, one of them being Lauren Whyte, last year’s Scottish Girls’ champion from the St Regulus club in St Andrews.