Right then, let’s see if we can help Blane Dodds, Scottish Golf’s recently-started chief executive, with his first big decision since succeeding Hamish Grey and that, of course, is what do about a new performance manager.
The position is up for grabs following last week’s announcement that Steve Paulding is moving on to pastures new, having called time after seven years with Scottish Golf to become director of British Athletics’ national performance institute.
Let’s not beat about the bush here. Paulding was always fighting a losing battle in his current post due to a cycling background, having represented Great Britain himself in the 1991 World Championships before, as team manager, helping put Team GB on track for medal glory in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
He was constantly the target of jibes and the news of his departure was soon greeted with someone taking to scotsman.com and commenting: “Good riddance, get on yer bike!” Paulding was also accused on that site by another reader of “showing total ignorance and lack of awareness of the job he was meant to be doing”.
The Welshman certainly wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, as he showed with his response to Scotland finishing 44th in the Eisenhower Trophy in Turkey in 2012. Paulding said he’d been “embarrassed” by that performance and insisted that “tough love” was the only way to ensure there was no such repeat on that world stage.
“With the best will in the world, I don’t really care if we win the Home Internationals,” he said at the time. “It showed a good level of strength and depth. But you can win that with a mixture of mediocre and average players. What I need is players that can win at European and international level.”
Helped by a new crop of hungry young players coming through the ranks at just the right time, he got the success he was looking for. Bradley Neil’s win in the 2013 Amateur Championship, for instance. Other individual successes in South Africa and Australia and, most significant of all, back-to-back victories in the 2015 and 2016 European Team Championships. The last two Eisenhower Trophies have also produced much-improved finishes.
Credit where credit is due, then, and there certainly seems no doubt that Andrew Coltart and Catriona Matthew, both members of the Scottish Golf performance committee, believed Paulding’s approach was having a positive impact on the youngsters coming through the system.
So, what now? There are some people who believe that a performance manager is a complete waste of resources. They’d prefer to see the money currently channeled in that direction re-routed to the grassroots of the game. Instead of the focus being on the “elite” players at the top of the pyramid, there’s a growing belief that it’s time for Scottish Golf to get back to concentrating on coaching and developing a wider group of young players.
Put it this way, we did a pretty decent job of producing top amateurs, many of whom are now on either the European Tour or the PGA Tour, when they worked away with their own coach. In fact, our success rate in terms of producing players who were ready to hit the ground running as professionals was better back then than it has been since winter training trips to the United Arab Emirates and South Africa became the norm.
Yes, I know that will go down like a lead balloon – and yes, of course, it’s tougher than ever to try and secure a foothold on the European Tour due to the bar constantly being raised as more countries appear on the golfing map – but the statistics don’t lie, sorry.
However, if Dodds does decide that a status quo is best and Paulding has indeed laid a solid foundation under the watchful eye of performance director Stephen Docherty, then there is surely one obvious candidate as a replacement in Dean Robertson.
Quite simply, no-one is better equipped to take on the job. We’re talking, after all, about a man who’s been there and done it. He knows the game inside out. He won top titles as an amateur and played in a Walker Cup. He landed the Italian Open during a spell on the European Tour. He’s worked wonders in a performance role at Stirling University, where his influence on the likes of Jack McDonald and Cormac Sharvin, two members of last year’s winning Walker Cup team, has been enormous.
Now is the time for Scottish Golf to enlist the services of Robertson, get him to really galvanise the game again at the bottom of that pyramid but also use his expertise to get the very best out of our top players, both men and women, and ensure they are properly prepared if they decide to have a crack at the professional game.
Which will be one legacy from Paulding’s reign, having embraced the opportunity for the likes of Grant Forrest, Ewen Ferguson, Connor Syme and Robert MacIntyre to play as amateurs on the Challenge Tour this year and we all saw how much Forrest, for instance, benefited from that as he made such an encouraging pro debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
There are other potential candidates. Kendal McWade, for example. The Bonnyton PGA professional is the founder of Instinctive Golf, a task-led learning programme, and is currently England Golf’s North Region coach.
Another Scot, Ian Peek, has also earned a good reputation around the world for his coaching philosophies.
Would Edinburgh man Neil Manchip, who has done an outstanding job as the Golfing Union of Ireland’s national coach, be tempted by an offer to come home to Scotland to head up a new-look coaching set up?
Over to you Blane Dodds, but, please, do us one favour by appointing a golf person on this occasion if you do decide to go for a new performance manager, and I say that with all due respect to Paulding. Let’s wish him well.