Jack McDonald is starting to hit form in the paid ranks – a five-under-par 66 in the second round of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge was proof of that – and he reckons it is partly down to the support he’s received from his agent, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler.
The 24-year-old Ayrshireman picked up a wrist injury soon after joining the likes of Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett on Chandler’s ISM client list, stopping him from getting off to the fast start he was hoping for in the professional ranks last season.
His main focus this year is the Alps Tour, having secured his card for the third-tier circuit at the end of last year, but he’s chalked up top-25 finishes in both Turkey and Denmark on the Challenge Tour and has now guaranteed another pay-day in his home event.
McDonald, one of three Scots in a winning Walker Cup team at Royal Lytham in 2015, bagged five birdies in a flawless effort at Macdonald Spey Valley to head into the weekend as the leading Scot on four-under, six shots behind the leader, experienced Swede Mikael Lundberg.
“I had a clear gameplan and stuck to it and played well today. I hit a lot of fairway and greens and holed out pretty well,” said McDonald of his pleasing performance on a day when the weather conditions were much improved from the opening round, albeit still not what you would expect in the summer, even in Scotland.
“The greens, which are the best I’ve seen them up here, were a bit faster today and it was flat calm out there this afternoon. I birdied my last hole, the tenth, after hitting a 6-iron to ten feet, which was a nice way to finish.
“Chubby has been very good with me, particularly through the spell I was out with a wrist injury last year. He’s been there and done it so understood what I was going through and it is nice to be out there now playing some good golf.”
Lundberg, a three-time winner on both the European Tour and Challenge Tour, echoed that view after backing up his opening 67 with a 65, the latter being a polished effort containing six birdies, to sit a shot clear of first-round pace- setter Richard James (68), with Spaniard Scott Fernandez (65) and Ulsterman Michael Hoey (66) a stroke further back in joint-third.
“My game hadn’t been that good over the last couple of weeks, hitting the ball awful,” declared the 43-year-old, whose most recent success on the main circuit came in the 2014 Lyoness Open in Austria. “But I made a few small tweaks and have started to hit it way better this week.”
The Helsingborg man is back on the second-tier circuit for the first time in a decade after finishing 158th in last season’s Race to Dubai. “There used to be 20 or 30 guys that were good; now there are 50 or 60,” he said of the rising standard. “The main difference is some of the younger players hit the ball miles nowadays.”
Fernandez considers himself as being “a quarter Scottish” due to his great grandmother coming from Glasgow. The 24-year-old finished ahead of Colin Montgomerie at Gailes Links to qualify for last year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon and is certainly feeling at home this week in the shadow of the Cairngorms. Fernandez hails, after all, from Granada and was a skiing whiz kid before he decided to concentrate on golf.
“My dad, who is here watching me with some of his friends, is a skiing instructor and it’s been nice seeing all the skiing shops when I’ve been walking through the town,” said Fernandez, smiling. “I still do a bit of skiing back home but only in the off season and in good conditions as I can’t risk getting injured.”
On a day when Swiss player Marco Iten shot a 63, one outside the course record held by 2013 winner Brooks Koepka and defending champion James Heath, McDonald led seven Scots into the final two rounds. Jack Doherty, Jamie McLeary, Grant Forrest, James Ross, Danny Kay and Scott Henry are the others still flying the Saltire, with five of their compatriots agonisingly missing out by a shot.