Martin Dempster: Don’t write off Scott Henry

Scott Henry could start to make real progress if he can improve his long game. Picture: Getty
Scott Henry could start to make real progress if he can improve his long game. Picture: Getty
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IT is greedy, I know, and especially so when the comparable figure 12 months ago was a big fat zero, but what a pity that Scott Henry fell agonisingly short as two of his compatriots, Andrew McArthur and Jamie McLeary, earned step-ups to the European Tour next season.

In truth, there can be no excuses as Henry was in a strong position after finishing runner-up in the Madeira Islands Open in early August only to slip out of the top-15 card-winning positions by missing four cuts five tournaments in the build-up to the NBO Classic Grand Final in Oman.

In ending up 18th on the second -tier circuit’s money list, the 28-year-old will still get around 20 starts on the main Tour and also has the chance to improve his ranking at the final stage of the Qualifying School starting in Spain this weekend.

It’s a shame, however, that Henry might have to wait another year to get his second chance to have a proper crack at the European Tour because he’s got something inside him that I, for one, haven’t come across all that often covering Scottish golf.

Listen, for instance, to what he had to say after rising to the occasion in the “most important round of my life” to card a flawless five-under-par 67 in the heat of the last-day battle on a demanding Greg Norman-designed course at Almouj Golf in Muscat.

“I’ve never ever shied away on a golf course in my life,” declared Henry, composing himself after briefly being overcome with emotion after doing himself proud only to fall one birdie short. “I’m absolutely fearless when I get into a situation where the heat is on.”

As was the case when he holed a 30ft putt to get into a play-off in the Kazakhstan Open in 2012, then won it. As was the case when he rolled in an eagle putt on the 18th green on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles to just miss out on a play-off in the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship. As was the case when he went into the final round of this year’s Madeira Islands Open and signed off with a six-under-par 66 only to be pipped in that event for the second season in a row.

“I’ve never backed down,” added Henry in emphasising that he has the stomach to face the sort of tests that can make or break people. “There will be times where I mess up, but it will never be through fear as I know how to give it everything.”

A proven winner as an amateur, Henry will forever be grateful for the advice and help given to him by Ian Rae, the Scottish national coach, and didn’t take ending that relationship lightly. He felt the time had come for some fresh input, however, and there were certainly signs in the season-ending event in the Omani capital that his game is moving in the right direction under new swing guru Andrew Nicholson and putting coach Andy Paisley.

“My long game has been killing me for the last couple of years,” admitted Henry of what has been the main reason why, after coming within a few spots of retaining his main Tour card in 2013, he has been sort of treading water since then. “But I’ve seen it get slightly better through the things I’m working on.”

Once that really clicks, watch out for the Scot starting to make real progress again because it’s doubtful if we have a player at the moment, not even newly-crowned WGC-HSBC Champions winner Russell Knox, who feels more confident with a putter in their hands these days.

“My putting used to be the weakest part of my game, but now it’s the strongest,” said Henry before adding words rarely uttered by a Scottish golfer: “I feel as though I am going to hole putts.”

At 28, it’s certainly way too early to be giving up on him and those Scots chiselling away at the coalface should certainly take heart from McArthur, who has secured a full European Tour card for the first time after spending the vast majority of the past decade on the Challenge Tour and finding the standard there getting better with each passing year.

“There’s been a few tight moments,” admitted the 36-year-old of the financial struggles he’s faced. “About 18 months ago, for instance, I was chatting to my wife and she asked me, ‘what are you doing next year as this can’t go on?’ It couldn’t but fortunately from somewhere I managed to produce some better results.”

The success of both McArthur and McLeary in winning cards is the latest feather in the cap of Team Scottish Hydro, the support programme set up in 2011. Indeed, the criteria for it was changed specifically for them this season, extending their backing to a fourth year, and how apt that decision has proved.

Now, starting in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa at the beginning of next month, the experienced duo – McLeary is 34 – will be aiming to hit the ground running.

“I feel as though I have come in in terms of my performances in the main Tour events recently, so I will go out there and embrace it,” said McArthur, a former Scottish Amateur champion. “I feel I’m a lot more relaxed playing on those events now whereas in the past I built it up into something it wasn’t.”