Martin Dempster: Pro ranks aren’t for all amateur stars

Victorious Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards, second from left and the Scots members of his team, Grant Forrest, left, Ewen Ferguson, second from right, and Jack McDonald. Picture: David Cannon/R&A/Getty
Victorious Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards, second from left and the Scots members of his team, Grant Forrest, left, Ewen Ferguson, second from right, and Jack McDonald. Picture: David Cannon/R&A/Getty
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sO, WHAT now for Scotland’s Walker Cup-winning trio? Can Jack McDonald, our top points scorer in Great Britain & Ireland’s thumping victory at Royal Lytham, use the exhilarating experience as a springboard to become a star in the professional ranks? Or will that be either Ewen Ferguson or Grant Forrest after they also made tangible contributions in Lancashire?

It would be nice to see all three go on to become European Tour players, of course, and perhaps that will be the case. History, however, shows that success against the Americans in a match played over two days doesn’t necessarily pave the way to fame and fortune in the professional game. Far from it, in fact.

Five players raised a hand when the ten-strong GB&I team was asked who’d be leaving the amateur ranks before the dust had even settled on a 16½-9½ victory, but McDonald, Ferguson and Forrest were not among them. For the time being at least, they are all retaining their amateur status as team-mates Ashley Chesters, Paul Dunne, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Jimmy Mullen begin new chapters in their careers. Moynihan, who won the 2014 Scottish Stroke-Play at Panmure, has already joined Chubby Chandler’s ISM stable, and watch out for the others to be paraded by management companies in the coming days and weeks.

On the back of how well he played at the weekend, it might come as a surprise to some that McDonald has not entered the European Tour Qualifying School, which starts at two venues, including The Roxburghe near Kelso, today and concludes in mid-November in Girona. That decision may have been down to him lacking the confidence of some of his peers. At 22, though, the Stirling University graduate still has time on his side to build that to a level whereby he can try his luck with sufficient belief and it is worth bearing in mind that Chesters, who led GB&I out in all four sessions and emerged with three and a half points, has waited until 
26 to decide that it is time for him to roll the dice.

Ferguson and Forrest are among the Q-School hopefuls but have entered next week’s event at Collingtree Park in Northamptonshire as amateurs so as to keep their options open. Ferguson, the youngest in the GB&I team at 19, talked on Sunday about going for the “experience” and will aim to sprinkle his 2016 schedule with some starts in professional events if he comes up short this time around in the three-stage card battle.

As was noted by some seasoned observers after clapping eyes on him for the first time last week, however, the former British Boys’ champion has a swagger that suggests he believes anything is possible and, as well as beating world No 2 Maverick McNealy, he made Beau Hossler, the top American performer, birdie the last to get the better of him. Both displays backed up why Georgia Golf, an English-based management company that has the likes of Jamie Donaldson and Tyrrell Hatton on its books, has already signed up Ferguson and is excited about what the future holds for him.

The same age as McDonald, Forrest looks to be the best equipped of the trio at the moment in terms of being ready to see if he can become the player to fill Scotland’s yawning age gap on the European Tour, where 31-year-old Scott Jamieson is our youngest full card holder at present. With three national titles on his CV, including the Scottish Amateur, as well as a St Andrews Links Trophy triumph, Forrest certainly has a slight edge so far when it comes to having proved himself at the top level.

Admittedly, Forrest wasn’t at his best in the Walker Cup, but he showed character to dig out a second-day singles win and, like Dunne, a spell away from home to play top-level college
golf in America will have helped toughen him up for challenges, both on and off the course, that lie ahead.

What I particularly like about the tartan trio who helped GB&I to a record seven-point winning margin in the biennial event is that they are all slightly different in terms of their personality. In other words, they aren’t robots and, while helped enormously by the Scottish Golf Union over the years, don’t have the same people trying to help them achieve their career goals.

Ferguson, for example, works with Gregor Monks, who is based at Brucefields on the outskirts of Stirling. Forrest has Jonathan Porteous, the head professional at Craigielaw, as his swing coach while McDonald’s mentor is Dean Robertson. A Walker Cup player himself before going on to become a European Tour winner, Robertson has been a revelation as Stirling University’s golf coach and he was entitled to be very proud to see two of his protégés, McDonald and Irishman Cormac Sharvin, play starring roles on amateur golf’s biggest stage.