Ewen Ferguson and Craig Howie: Why Scottish pro golf is in such a good place ahead of Challenge Tour Grand Final

It would probably be pushing things to suggest that Scotland has started to churn out a conveyor belt of world-class golfers all of a sudden, the global standings, after all, indicating otherwise, with only Bob MacIntyre in the top 100 and just three others in the leading 200.

Ewen Ferguson has all but secured his European Tour card for next season after an impressive campaign on the Challenge Tour. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Ewen Ferguson has all but secured his European Tour card for next season after an impressive campaign on the Challenge Tour. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

But, at the same time, there can be no denying that we’re certainly back on track in terms of seeing exciting young talent make that difficult transition from the amateur game to the professional ranks.

The Challenge Tour, which, of course, is the European Tour’s development circuit, has become a happy hunting ground for the Caledonian contingent, with a small posse of players proving themselves on that stage then quickly turning into winners on the main tour.

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David Law, for example, tasted victory as a European Tour rookie in the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open early in 2019, the same season Bob MacIntyre, a fellow graduate from the previous Challenge Tour campaign, was crowned as Rookie of the Year then landing his breakthrough win in the Cyprus Showdown around a year ago.

Craig Howie still has work to do in the Challenge Tour Grand Final to secure his European Tour card for next year. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Grant Forrest and Calum Hill, two others who made the step up from the second-tier circuit within the past three seasons, are also now European Tour winners after landing the Hero Open and Cazoo Classic respectively this year.

The welcome emergence of this new tartan talent has transformed the landscape dramatically in terms of the age group now flying the Saltire on the main stage in European golf.

It wasn’t that long ago, after all, when the average age of the Scots on the top tour was 37, but, even with the likes of Stephen Gallacher and David Drysdale still going strong in their late 40s, that has been reduced significantly.

MacIntyre, Hill and Forrest are all still in their 20s, with hopes high that all three have just got started when it comes to winning at the top level and the best times lie ahead for them.

Though still waiting for his maiden success on the European Tour, the same applies to 26-year-old Connor Syme, another player to have used the Challenge Tour as a stepping stone, with Ewen Ferguson and Craig Howie both now on the verge of continuing that encouraging run of Scottish success on that circuit.

Heading into this week’s Grand Final, an event supported by the R&A, at T-Golf & Country Club near Palma, Ferguson sits sixth in the Road to Mallorca rankings while Howie lies in 16th position in the season-long battle for 20 main tour cards next season.

Thanks to a terrific campaign - he’s done everything but win, having been second three times and third on another occasion - it’s already job done effectively for Ferguson, the 25-year-old former British and Scottish Boys’ champion from Bearsden.

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Peebles man Howie, 27, a winner in Sweden earlier in the year, still has work on his hands in the final four rounds of the campaign, but both Scots deserve enormous credit for their endeavours to this point.

Ferguson, who gave a great account of himself in a European Tour appearance in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship a few weeks back, is the highest-placed British player in the standings, with Howie, in fact, his closest challenger in that respect.

It’s not often that the Scots outdo the English on any of the tours, but this is one such occasion and that really is encouraging for the sport in its birthplace at the moment.

The Challenge Tour, after all, is where the cream of the young crop outside the US need to prove themselves first and foremost in the paid ranks before attempting to go on to bigger and better things.

Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy apart, the majority of Europe’s top players cut their teeth on the circuit, graduates in the last decade including Tyrrell Hatton, for instance, while current British Masters champion Richard Bland was a second-tier player as recently as 2019, when he made the step up - again in his instance - along with the aforementioned Hill.

Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez, the 2019 Dunhill Links champion, was another player to climb the ladder in recent years along with South African Erik Van Rooyen, who has gone on to land title triumphs on both the European Tour and PGA Tour.

Make no mistake, the standard on the Challenge Tour isn’t that far behind that on the European Tour and with a talent pool that gets deeper and deeper at the start of each season, that’s why the recent strike rate by Scots in the card battle is something that should be applauded.

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With just the top 45 players making it through to the Grand Final, the season is over for Craig Ross (90th), Bradley Neil (97th), Euan Walker (118th), Scott Henry (146th), Daniel Young (173rd) and Liam Johnston (190th), but, a year from now or shortly afterwards, they could be next in line.

You can also add Calum Fyfe to that list after he recently secured his Challenge Tour card for next season through the PGA EuroPro Tour, with others like Jack McDonald and Sam Locke certainly having the talent to eventually secure a foothold at the second-tier level then see if thy can flourish from there.

It was through a superb initiative set up by Bounce Sport in association with Scottish Golf that the likes of MacIntyre, Forrest, Syme and Ferguson savoured a taste of Challenge Tour life when they were still amateurs, the trio benefitting enormously from that experience when the time eventually came for them to turn professional.

Similarly, it’s been brilliant to see some Scottish-based professionals getting starts on the circuit this season through Paul Lawrie’s excellent Tartan Pro Tour, which has taken off to the extent that you wonder if it could actually become an official feeder tour in the future.

Kieran Cantlay, winner of this season’s Tartan Pro Tour Order Order of Merit, has secured four Challenge Tour starts next year, with runner-up Michael Stewart getting two starts teed up for him at a time when his game is definitely on the up again, so an exciting spell could still lie ahead for him and also the likes of Ryan Campbell among others.

More than I can ever remember, Scottish golfers are feeding off each other in that quest to keep climbing the ladder, and it will be mission accomplished for both Ferguson and Howie with one big final push on the island of Mallorca this week.

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