Martin Dempster: Keep hopes for Neil and Syme in perspective

Now we're talking. Thanks to the excellent achievements by both Bradley Neil and Connor Syme over the past fortnight or so, Scottish golf has regained some youthful swagger. The European Tour beckons for both next season and it's an exciting prospect to see two talented young players '“ Neil is still just 21 and Syme 22 '“ embarking on that journey again after a '¨barren spell.

Connor Syme finished in the top 15 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: John Stewart.

At the same time, though, let’s not smother them in the sort of sycophantic stuff we’ve been seeing on the back of the pair’s recent achievements, praiseworthy as they undoubtedly are, because this is just the start for both Neil and Syme, and it would be wrong to over-burden them with 
expectation.

They need to be allowed time to adjust to their new working environment, time to get to know European Tour courses and, perhaps most important of all, time to be able to cope with the mental challenge of not knowing from one week to the next in certain parts of the season that they will actually be playing.

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Based on Thomas Detry, the 
player who finished 15th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman in 2016, Neil can expect around 25 starts for getting his card through that route, while Syme is likely to secure a minimum of 15 outings using ninth place in last year’s Qualifying School as a guide.

And, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that 15 events should easily be enough for just about anyone to hang on to a card, here’s something to chew on. Two English players, John Parry and Matthew Nixon, shared that ninth spot 12 months ago and didn’t even come close to retaining their playing privileges. Parry secured 17 starts, Nixon 15, yet Syme made more than either of them in the three events he played in through invitations before securing his Race to Dubai status at the first attempt.

The point I’m trying to make is that both Neil and Syme will have to try to earn their European Tour stripes over the course of a season that will not be mapped out as clearly as they were used to in the amateur ranks and, in Neil’s case, on the Challenge Tour.

Parry and Nixon, for example, didn’t get into any of the big-money Middle East Swing events early in the year. They also missed out on the BMW PGA Championship, Irish Open and Scottish Open. 
Nixon, in fact, was playing more on the Challenge Tour towards the end of the season.

Hopefully some changes being introduced in 2018 will prove favourable for Syme’s category, in particular, though if he can keep performing how he has in his first two months as a professional, then the Fifer will be getting into a lot more than 15 or so events in his rookie season as form players rightly get rewarded on a week-to-week basis.

As I’ve already said – and it really is annoying that some of those sycophants never see players hit a single shot at amateurs and just jump on bandwagons – we owe it to these two to keep expectation levels in check, particularly when we were here seven years ago with another precocious talent, Lloyd Saltman, and got bloody noses after building him up.

It has to be acknowledged, though, that Syme has hit the ground running in the paid ranks very impressively indeed. He already had two top-15 finishes on the European Tour under his belt before securing his place on the 2018 circuit and, for me, his performance at last week’s Qualifying School in Spain was even better than those eye-catching efforts in both the Portugal Masters and Dunhill Links.

“Connor has taken to life as a professional very quickly,” observed former Open champion Paul Lawrie, who was delighted to offer Syme a chance to test himself in a field of professionals in his invitational event at Deeside when he was still an emerging amateur and also played a practice round with the Drumoig player at this year’s Open Championship at Royal 
Birkdale.

He likes what he sees in the young Scot, but, at the same time, agreed that Syme should be allowed time and space to develop. “Even though we are all right to be excited by his progress so far, we also have to be slightly careful we don’t hype him up too much as it’s still very early days,” added the Aberdonian in offering a sensible note of caution.

“Having said that, I was very impressed with what I saw when I played a practice round with him at The Open this summer and I really enjoyed walking and talking to his dad [Drumoig Golf Centre PGA pro] Stuart, who has done a very good job coaching Connor.”

He has indeed and credit to him, too, for his part in Connor embarking on his new career with Tim Poyser, a caddie he’d linked up with towards the end of his amateur days, on the bag as there is no doubt that has helped him get people in the game talking about an emerging young Scottish golfer in a way we’ve not witnessed for way too long.

Add in the likes of Grant Forrest, Robert MacIntyre and Liam Johnston all having reason to be heading into 2018 with a spring in their step, too, and the future really is starting to look bright all of a sudden for Scottish golf.

Keep it up lads.