Martin Dempster: Scots outshining English for once

Robert MacIntyre secured a second-place finish in the Foshan Open in China on Sunday. Pic: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
Robert MacIntyre secured a second-place finish in the Foshan Open in China on Sunday. Pic: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
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English golf really has kicked the backside out of the Scottish game in recent years at every single level, yet finally we’ve achieved something to shout about when it comes to making comparisons about countless praiseworthy feats south of the 
Border.

In next week’s Road to Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final, Scotland, after all, has 
double the number of players in card-winning positions for the European Tour than our neighbours, highlighting once more the fact that this has undoubtedly been a best-ever campaign for Saltire standard-bearers on the second-tier circuit.

Admittedly, England will have more players overall in the 45-strong field - eight compared to six - in the United Arab Emirates, but that’s no real surprise given the fact they started out - as they always do - with a lot more card holders when the campaign started in Kenya back in March.

However, the presence of four Scots - Grant Forrest, Liam Johnston, David Law and now Bob MacIntyre after his second-place finish in the Foshan Open in China on Sunday - in the all-important top 15 with only 72 holes to go in the battle to graduate to the main Tour is, quite simply, a phenomenal achievement.

Twelve months ago, only Bradley Neil, who secured his card, and Forrest flew the Saltire in the corresponding event when it was held in Oman, where the year before it involved just two Scots once more - Duncan Stewart and Scott Henry.

Perhaps two is the number we should probably be expecting as an average going forward at a time when trying to secure a foothold on the European Tour gets more difficult with each passing year, but, in the meantime, let’s savour this season.

For both Forrest and Johnston, it’s effectively job done already. Lying eight and tenth respectively, they look to have earned sufficient points to have cards in the bag. The higher the better, though, and one more good week could prove the difference in terms of getting into some of those big-money Rolex Series events, including the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and BMW PGA Championship.

In 12th and 13th respectively, there’s still work to be done by Law and MacIntyre before they can start to think about teeing up in the opening event of the 2019 campaign in Hong Kong next month, but their destiny is in their own hands and that’s all you can ask for, really, at this stage of the season.

What is probably the most encouraging aspect about the quartet being in this position is the fact they all started out the current campaign at different stages in their careers or, equally, in different situations.

Law, for example, is in his fifth full season on the Challenge Tour while Forrest is only in his second. MacIntyre and Johnston, meanwhile, are both rookies but neither had a Challenge Tour status this time last year. MacIntyre, who is just 22, incidentally, and the youngest of the quartet, got his category through reaching the final round of the European Tour Qualifying School while Johnston was facing a season on the third-tier ProGolf Tour until he made the most of securing a Challenge Tour invitation to win in Spain back in May.

Calum Hill and Ewen Ferguson, the two other Scots to have also made it into the season-ending event in Ras Al Khaimah, didn’t have Challenge Tour cards, either, this time 12 months ago, highlighting the strength of so many performances and the development of players in the interim.

Hill only came back from a spell in the US in July before joining Johnston, who secured his second success, of course, in Kazakhstan last month, in becoming a winner - in Northern Ireland in his case - through an invitation while Ferguson used similar opportunities earlier in the year to get himself in a position where he has been playing under his own steam for most of the season.

Four wins - Law claimed the other one on home soil in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore - and six players left standing. Bravo indeed.

We shouldn’t really be too greedy because, let’s face it, four players stepping up to the Challenge Tour on Saturday week would be very satisfactory indeed. However, a really strong effort from either Hill or Ferguson - they probably need a win - in the UAE and it could end up being a five-star peformance.