It’s not just talented Scottish golfers who drop off the radar. Just ask James Heath. Little over a decade ago, he was being tipped in England to become the “new Nick Faldo”. The six-time major champion, in fact, became Heath’s mentor after he was recruited as the first member of the much-lauded Team Faldo.
The opportunity followed the Kingston-born player winning both the English Amateur Championship and the Lytham Trophy in 2004. The latter was one of the great performances in amateur golf over the past two decades. Not only did Heath win with a record aggregate by ten shots but his 18-under-par total was also five shots better than the score Tom Lehman posted to become Open champion at the same venue in 1996.
Within three years of joining the paid ranks, having won on the Challenge Tour in Denmark in 2006, Heath was on the European Tour, yet life over the past decade has turned into a struggle. Rounds like yesterday’s dazzling nine-under-par 62 in a weather-hit second round in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore have been few and far between.
“Yeah, I was tipped by some to go far many years ago, but far too much has gone since then – life gets in the way and I just didn’t play good enough,” reflected Heath, now 33, after a flawless round that matched efforts by Brooks Koepka, Ben An and Alan Dunbar in the 2013 event but didn’t earn him a share of the course record due to preferred lies being in operation.
“There have been too many times to count over the years when I have doubted myself. It has been a real rollercoaster, but I seem to have cracked on.”
He’s picked up jobs over the winter in recent years in a bid to “keep my head above water”. His latest one was collecting debts for the family business, a heating company in New Malden. “I was calling people up and asking, ‘where’s our money’? – in a very polite way, of course,” he said, smiling.
A second-day performance he described as a “breeze” left Heath sitting one off the clubhouse lead, held by Northern Ireland’s Chris Selfridge, as the £200,000 event was disrupted by close to three-and-a-half hours by the threat of lightning then heavy rain. Due to the delay, nearly a third of the field faced a return early this morning to complete their second round.
Selfridge, a 24-year-old who turned professional on the back of two North of Ireland title wins, was also foot perfect as he signed for a 64. “I played well yesterday, too, with a 65, so I knew my game was good,” he said. “Some days everything goes against you, so you take these days and make the most of them.”
As Peter Whiteford, the leading Scot after an opening 66, was left scrambling to finish his second circuit, local hero Duncan Stewart found himself lying two shots below the projected cut line, sitting at three-under, after a second-round 73. “Just s****,” groaned the Grantown-on-Spey man.