Martin Dempster: Craig Ross has proved he can beat the pros

We've learned not to get carried away by a Scot winning the South African Amateur Championship due to match-play events sometimes proving to be misleading, but our latest player '“ the fourth in six years '“ to hold that title might just be the one to keep an eye on over the next few years.

Craig Ross, after all, has already achieved something that can surely only stand him in good stead when the Kirkhill player leaves the amateur ranks behind, which won’t be until later this year at the earliest and not probably until after the South African Open next January.

The 23-year-old earned a spot in that event as a reward for his outstanding performance last week at George Golf Club – he qualified as second seed after two great stroke-play rounds then hardly put a foot wrong in the knock-out phase – and is only likely to give it up if he’s holding a European Tour card by then.

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To achieve that will take a monumental effort, of course, and it’s important that expectations are kept in perspective, both in the case of Ross and Drumoig Golf Centre’s Connor Syme, who provided Scottish golf with another notable success earlier in the year when he was crowned as the Australian Amateur champion.

What might just make Ross different to some of those compatriots who’ve found it tough making that transition from amateur to professional in recent years is that he already knows he can beat a full field of players from the paid ranks.

Playing on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour, he won the 54-hole Glenfarclas Open by three shots at Mar Hall in 2014, coming out on top by three shots with a 16-under-par total. It was one of the outstanding performances by a Scottish golfer at any level over the past few years and can stand Ross in good stead when he eventually finds himself doing this for a living.

It was a couple of notches up, of course, but there’s no doubt that Shane Lowry gained enormous confidence from winning the Irish Open in 2007 when he was still in the amateur ranks. More comparable with Ross’s achievement, 
David Law also got a huge boost when he became the first amateur in 30 years to claim the Northern Open title with his victory in 2011.

You can never tell, of course, how a player is going to handle the additional pressure of holing a putt when it has a price tag on it, but the man who has worked with Ross for just over two years now is confident that PGA EuroPro Tour triumph won’t be the only one that the Lanarkshire man chalks up in a professional event.

“I honestly think Craig is ready to make the switch from amateur to professional and one of the reasons for me saying that is he is already comfortable in that environment, which is the key,” said coach David Orr, the Eastwood-based PGA professional and an experienced Tartan Tour campaigner.

“He is a very determined and exceptionally talented individual. He is quiet but is very motivated and has a game that you probably don’t expect from someone who is 5ft 4in. His power to weight ratio is colossal and shifts it a colossal distance. His ball-striking is also second to none.”

Now back home following the fruitful trip to South Africa, where his earlier stroke-play performances suggested a big win had been in the pipeline, Ross is now turning his attention to the domestic campaign. His top target is to make Scotland’s six-man side to defend the European Team title in July. He also hopes to climb into the world’s top 50 in time to qualify for the US Amateur Championship.

With this success coming on the back of one of his clubmates, Paul Shields, about to embark on a first Challenge Tour campaign, these are exciting times for Kirkhill, which may not be one of the better-known clubs in the home of golf but is certainly doing something right when it comes to breeding young talent.

“It’s a great club with great facilities which keep getting better and better each year,” said Shields, who lost to compatriot Michael Stewart when he got to the final of the South African Amateur in 2011 before finishing joint-second behind Ross in that Mar Hall event. “We both took up the game at early ages and the pro, Duncan Williamson, has to get credit for our development since we were youngsters.”