Ever been in that awkward situation when you’ve asked a question and suddenly become aware of someone muttering behind you, leaving you straining to hear that person rather than the one you should be listening to?
It happened to me recently at a press conference with Matt Fitzpatrick, the British Masters champion and my vote for European Tour Rookie of the Year, and I knew the feathers I’d ruffled belonged to Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, his manager.
Never one to miss an opportunity to try to “put a kilt on a story”, I’d asked Fitzpatrick for his thoughts on why, at a time when he was making his European Tour breakthrough at 21, Scottish golf’s youngest card holder is his ISM stablemate, soon-to-be 32-year-old Scott Jamieson. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fitzpatrick was unable to offer anything specific on that theme, though it was interesting to hear him say he’d been given great confidence by being told by Pete Cowen and Mike Walker, two of the top coaches in the game, that he was “good enough to turn pro” after cutting short a stint at Northwestern University. As he told me afterwards – politely so, I hasten to add – Chandler reckoned Fitzpatrick had been the wrong person to ask, due to the young Yorkshireman being an “exceptional talent” who, therefore, can’t be compared with the vast majority of those he played alongside in the amateurs ranks.
That Woburn win, ten top 10s and 12th in the Race to Dubai certainly back up Chandler’s view of Fitzpatrick, who will now rank with Rory McIlroy when people talk about players that were always destined for the top.
It’s Chandler’s business, of course, to identify “exceptional talent” at an early age and help them blossom in the paid ranks, and he was complimentary about the latest crop of young Scottish amateurs on the back of a European team title triumph this year and three players then being members of a winning Walker Cup side.
Surely it tells you something, though, about how Scotland has become stuck in a rut when it comes to players making the transition to the pro ranks that ISM hasn’t felt stirred to sign one of our up-and-coming youngsters since Michael Stewart, who, incidentally, is no longer in Chandler’s stable.
It’s a similar story with IMG, who have looked after the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance for a long time, yet don’t have a young male Scottish player on their books after losing faith in James Byrne.
It has to be hoped, of course, that talented individuals such as Stewart and Byrne can overcome early adversity as professionals while I, for one, am confident that Scott Henry and David Law will both become European Tour regulars in time.
However, it is surely not out of order to think the home of golf should be producing “exceptional talent”, especially when you consider the resources ploughed into the amateur game these days are like night and day compared to when Montgomerie, Torrance, Sandy Lyle, Stephen Gallacher, Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay, Martin Laird and Russell Knox were all cutting their competitive teeth.
It may simply be the case, of course, that our top amateurs over the past decade have not been good enough to match the feats those listed – Paul Lawrie as well, of course – have achieved as professionals, and that age statistic would appear to back that up.
Perhaps, as new European Tour graduate Andrew McArthur opined last week when the Qualifying School was heading for a second straight year without a Scot winning a card, we produce the best up-and-coming links players yet that style of golf is no longer preparing them for the inland courses that predominantly host European Tour and Challenge Tour events.
Maybe we can get a better-balanced fixture list, starting with some of Scottish Golf’s flagship events being held on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles.
Let’s do anything we possibly can to get that next “exceptional talent” in European golf to be a Scot because, quite bluntly, it is long overdue.