Martin Dempster: Lawrie intervention doesn’t get SGSL off hook

Paul Shields. Picture: Getty
Paul Shields. Picture: Getty
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How ironic that, having struggled to get players to fulfil the criterion since the initiative was launched in 2010, our newest Challenge Tour card holder has received a kick in the teeth from Scottish Golf Support Ltd. Thankfully for Paul Shields, the controversial decision has been offset by Paul Lawrie stepping in with backing for the 25-year-old through his Foundation, but that, I’m afraid, shouldn’t get the Scottish-Government backed SGSL off the hook.

Indeed, Shields, though intent not to harbour any bitterness because he is well aware that no-one can ever feel a sense of entitlement in sport, has been badly let down by that body. Yes, of course, it is unreasonable to think there’s money floating around to support every Tom, Dick and Harry
and no-one is arguing about three women – Gemma Dryburgh, Kelsey MacDonald and Sally Watson – being recipients of support this year worth around £23,000 each. What is sticking in my throat about the snub delievered to Shields, though, is that certain people on the board had watched the Kirkhill player’s career take shape in the amateur ranks, knew the blood, sweat and tears he’d spilt and should have been encouraging his rise to the second tier in European golf.

That, after all, is where, initially at least, those involved in it being set up hoped to see the likes of Michael Stewart, James Byrne and David Law, our top amateurs at the time, cutting their professional teeth with backing from SGSL when the initiative was launched in 2010 following a £1 million investment by sportscotland. The fact that, Law apart, the amateur system has failed to produce players making progress in the men’s professional game over the past five years should have meant Shields’ success in earning a step up to the Challenge Tour was something for SGSL to mark with appropriate support not a let down.

Leaving him off this year’s list was bad enough. But for Shields to be told it was based on him having “moved backwards” last season was an insult given that he’d battled like a trojan in three stages of the European Tour Qualifying School to secure his chance on its second tier.

I’m led to believe the two-time Scottish Boys’ finalist was asked to provide “sports science statistics” to back up an unsuccessful appeal. If that’s the case, then someone really is out of touch. Players chiselling away on circuits such as the PGA EuroTour, where Shields competed last year, don’t have the money to spend on that sort of stuff. Neither would most amateurs, of course, if it wasn’t paid for by bodies such as Scottish Golf.

Understandably, Shields would like some clarity, not just for himself but others who might secure a Challenge Tour card in the future, get their hopes built up thinking that has met the criteria set by SGSL only to receive a kick in the teeth instead.

“What is Scottish Golf Support Limited there for and what is the point of this system?” he has been left asking. “They are supposed to be helping young pros in their first couple of years and I don’t think there’s a more genuine candidate than me at the moment. I don’t understand what they are looking for. There seems to be a hidden clause and, if so, it’s important that we find out what that is.”

It would have been horrendous for Shields if he was heading into his first Challenge Tour campaign – the 2016 circuits starts in Kenya next month – feeling that the people who should at least be encouraging him seemed to be inferring he’s not good enough, so well done to the aforementioned Lawrie.

Hot on the heels of the SGSL snub being made public, the Aberdonian announced that Shields had become the latest player to receive support from his Foundation, having been impressed by the Lanarkshire man, both as a golfer and a person, when he’s attended events organised by Lawrie to help aspsiring Tour professionals over the past few years.

“We decided to support Paul way before the decision by SGSL to not support him,” insisted the 1999 Open champion. “He has progressed really well and quickly and has a full Challenge Tour exemption this year. We have invited him to all our PLF (Paul Lawrie Foundation) events over the last two years and he’s really good lad who works hard.”

Changes to SGSL are believed to be in the offing following an independent review. Sadly for Shields, they’ll be too late to help him this season, though thank the Lawrie someone has done the right thing.