Martin Dempster: English successes should make us Scots jealous
Has there ever been a time when we have had cause to be more envious of English golf? I doubt it because, as the Scottish game goes through a sticky spell, certainly on this side of the Atlantic, title after title seems to be falling to players from south of the Border at the moment.
Take last week, for example. Led by Tommy Fleetwood as he maintained a superb run of form to land the French Open, English golf enjoyed a trophy-laden few days, both in the professional and amateur ranks, that, quite frankly, has to be viewed jealously by us Scots.
As Fleetwood was winning in Paris, Richard McEvoy strolled to a four-shot victory in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge – the fourth Englisman in a row to triumph at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore and seventh to taste victory in that event since its launch in 2006.
That came a couple of days after Neil Raymond had triumphed on the PGA EuroPro Tour, one of the third-tier circuits, while in between Alfie Plant claimed the European Amateur Championship at Walton Heath.
Add in Harry Ellis having become Amateur champion at Royal St George’s seven days earlier and two other top amateur events, the Lytham Trophy and St Andrews Links Trophy, also having ended up in English hands over the past few weeks and it has certainly been an impressive spell.
What’s behind it then? In terms of numbers, England has more players competing on circuits like the European Tour, Challenge Tour and PGA EuroPro Tour than any other country, so, based on that alone, successess should be easier to come by.
There is more to it than that, though, because English golf has had its own sticky spells in the past. In 2001, for example, Lee Westwood was the only Englishman in the world’s top 100. On a couple of occasions around that time, it was also just him and Nick Faldo flying the flag in The Masters.
How times have changed. Eleven English players are currently in the world’s top 100 while the same number lined up at Augusta National earlier this year. In contrast, Scotland have two players in the top 100 – Russell Knox having just been joined by Martin Laird – and had only two representatives at The Masters as well in Knox and Sandy Lyle.
Justin Rose, through becoming a major winner, a Ryder Cup rock for Europe and, most recently, an Olympic champion, has played a big part in what’s happening in English golf at the moment. He has inspired players such as Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, as, of course, Danny Willett did when he won The Masters last year.
A whole host of successes over the past few seasons on the European Tour has had a spiralling effect. On the Challenge Tour, for example, Jordan Smith topped the money list last season in his rookie season. On the third-tier Alps Tour, Sam Wallace chalked up a remarkable six victories in 2016. Success breeds success and that, unfortunately, is something that just isn’t happening in Scottish golf at the moment.
It is now more than two years since the last tartan triumph on the European Tour, meaning that our youngsters are not exactly being inspired in the way we would like them to be and seeing just one player out of seven make the cut in an event like the French Open, as happened at Le Golf National outside Paris last week, certainly is not what is needed in that respect.
Of course, this would be the perfect time for Scottish golf to get that much-needed boost. The sight of Saltires to the fore in the Irish Open, Scottish Open and Open Championship over the next three weeks could galvanise all our leading professionals and, as has happened in England, filter into the amateur game.
As a result of that impressive burst of results, the majority of the ten spots up for grabs in the Great Britain & Ireland side set to defend the Walker Cup in Los Angeles in September will almost certainly now go to players with the Cross of St George beside their name and rightly so.
Six Scots are in that squad, but, by the looks of things, we are probably relying on Robert MacIntyre to provide a tartan touch in California, though there is still time for the likes of Connor Syme, Craig Howie and Liam Johnston to do something to really make the captain, Craig Watson, and his fellow selectors sit up and take notice.