Martin Dempster: Better times ahead for Scots golfers

Admittedly up against two English victories '“and it was almost three after Tommy Fleetwood's flying finish in China '“ the past weekend provided more encouragement about a bright new future for Scottish golf than has been witnessed for some time.

Grant Forrest is one of the emerging Scots who promise a bright future. Picture: Getty.
Grant Forrest is one of the emerging Scots who promise a bright future. Picture: Getty.

Performances by Saltire standard-bearers in both the men’s and women’s game delivered real hope that better times lie ahead for our golfers in the professional ranks after a barren spell, certainly in terms of producing new talent at the top 
level of the game.

It still comes as a real shock to the system when people hear that the average age of Scotland’s current card holders on the European Tour is 37, the youngest person in that group being Scott Henry, who turned 30 in January.

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In short, the home of golf is crying out for new blood on its main circuit, which is why the performances by both Grant Forrest and Bradley Neil in the Turkish Airlines Challenge in Belek last week was such a welcome sight.

Forrest finished fifth in just his second start as a professional on the Tour’s development circuit while Neil narrowly missed out on a top ten. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, of course, but it can be the start of exciting journeys for both these young players.

Forrest is 23, having turned professional towards the end of last year on the back of proving himself as a winner in the amateur game. Unlike some who have joined the paid ranks over the past decade or so, he’d earned the chance to see if he could cut the mustard where it really matters.

What was impressive was that he didn’t rush into taking that leap, either. He wasn’t firing on all cylinders when helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham in 2015, so held on for a year. The experience he then gained from playing some Challenge Tour events last season as an amateur was invaluable.

The way Forrest went about his first outing as a professional was also impressive as he finished just outside the top 40 in the Dunhill Links Championship last October, since when he has finished second in the MENA Tour Qualifying School and, in general, sent out nothing but positive signals about what might lie ahead.

It is certainly going to be exciting watching Forrest’s progress this season on the Challenge Tour and the same goes for Neil, especially after he reminded us that he is one of those players capable of going really low with middle rounds of 64 and 65 in Turkey.

It was at the same event last year that I remember chatting to the Blairgowrie man at a time when his confidence had been totally drained after a sticky start in the professional ranks. He was at a low ebb then, but all credit to him for getting his career moving in the right direction again.

He looked destined for a bright future in the game long before winning the Amateur Championship in 2014, but the speed bumps he has hit since then could end up being the making of him. Neil is still just 21, so time is still very much on his side but, like Forrest, it would be great for Scottish golf if he could secure that step up to the European Tour sooner rather than later.

The same goes, I hasten to add, for the likes of Jack McDonald and David Law, two other players aged 25 and under to make the cut in just the second Challenge Tour event of the season, as well as Connor Syme, who further underlined his potential with an impressive five-shot success in the Battle Trophy at Crail in the amateur ranks on Sunday.

As for the women’s game, the last two events on the Ladies European Tour have featured lots of Saltires on the leaderboard, Kelsey Macdonald starting to show she is finding her feet in the pro game, Carly Booth returning to form and Pamela Pretswell looking as though 
she is getting close to a breakthrough win.

Pretswell’s progress on the circuit has been impressive, finishing top Scot for the past two years and, having got herself in the mix again in the Mediterranean Open in Spain at the weekend, it really does seem only a matter of time before that door opens.

Catriona Matthew continues to fly the flag admirably at the top level in women’s golf, but we need someone – and even better if it’s a few – to be backing her up and, at 27, Pretswell looks as though her best years can still lie ahead.

Let’s hope last weekend was just a taste of things to come for 
Scottish golf.