Martin Dempster: Scotland's top level slump

It's surely not asking too much for the home effort in next week's Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart to be more palatable than a pitiful performance at another event in the Highlands last week. Embarrassing is the only way to sum up what transpired in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge as just two players '“ George '¨Murray and Paul McKechnie '“ from a 28-strong starting contingent made the cut at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.

Russell Knox is the world No 26 but Scotland only has two other players in the top 200 of the official rankings. Picture: Getty
Russell Knox is the world No 26 but Scotland only has two other players in the top 200 of the official rankings. Picture: Getty

In fairness, a quartet, including amateur duo Robert MacIntyre and Connor Syme, both of whom were playing in their first event on the European Tour’s feeder circuit, missed out by a shot, while five others fell just two below the mark.However, this event’s 11th staging was evidence that Scotland is struggling to produce professionals these days who are capable of performing at a level where the bar is being raised all the time.

As one of those players who made an early exit suggested, the disappointing performance was perhaps the result of too many of the individuals trying too hard and failing to do themselves justice as a consequence.The majority of the 28 had secured invitations for the £200,000 event and some were getting a taste of Challenge Tour action for the first time. In playing aggressively, no doubt, as they tried to make the most of a golden opportunity, they were undone on a course which is not nearly as easy as James Heath’s title-winning 21-under-par suggests.

Even so, to be left with just two players flying the home flag in the final 36 holes is simply indefensible and points to something being wrong within Scottish golf at the moment. In truth, it is difficult to put a finger on what exactly that is other than coming to the conlusion that we don’t have any real strength in depth right now.

It was interesting, though, to hear one Challenge Tour official talk last week about how “Scottish players are the most negative of the lot” and that is something many people believe is the root of the slumps we’ve seen occur in our game over the past couple of decades.It’s something that is often said about us as a nation, of course, so therefore isn’t as easy to be resolved than you might think.

This article will also be labelled as “negative”, but there’s absolutely noting to be gained from heads being buried in the sand. It really is long overdue for a proper forum to see what can be done to offer a brighter future for Scottish golf because, clearly on the evidence from last week, we are currently clutching at straws.

Yes, Duncan Stewart, helped by a win in Madrid earlier in the year, is on course to secure his European Tour card for next season through the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman. The likes of David Law, Scott Henry, Peter Whiteford and George 
Murray will also be aiming to get in the mix a bit more in the second half of the season on that circuit.

It is also encouraging that the likes of MacIntyre, Syme, Grant Forrest and Ewen Ferguson all have strong games as they edge towards the paid ranks, where opportunties like the one last week as well as others being offered to them on the Challenge Tour this season can only stand them in good stead.

However, it is blatantly obvious that, as a nation, we have lost the ability to produce players like Sandy Lyle, Bernard Gallacher, Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance and Paul Lawrie. Yes, that is partly due to the fact that game as a whole now has much greater strength in depth, meaning that Scottish successes at the top level that were once aplenty are now few and far between. There’s no getting away from the fact, however, that Scottish golf is going through another of those slumps at the top level and the world rankings back that up. Russell Knox, our new leading light, is sitting pretty in 26th, but the next player on that list, Richie Ramsay, is 146th, with Marc Warren the only other one in the top 200.

The fact that it wasn’t long ago that we had five sitting in the top 100 shows how quickly things can change in this game, of course, so let’s hope the Scottish Open is indeed a spark for an unturn in fortunes at European Tour level. There, just like on the Challenge Tour, no-one will ever accuse the Scots of being slackers because I know for a fact most of our boys have tremendous work ethic. That’s no different to the others out there, though, so we really need to take a forensic look at things to help map out that brighter future.