Martin Dempster: Scottish golf is in good health

IT DOESN’T seem too long ago that delivering a health report on Scottish golf nearing the end of the season was the sort of task only the Grim Reaper would have relished.

Chris Doak: Handled pressure. Picture: Getty

For a spell, albeit a relatively short one, the home of golf was in the doldrums at the highest level, the Saltire rarely being seen towards the top of online leaderboards on either the European Tour or PGA Tour.

It wasn’t due to either a lack of talent or effort, the individuals concerned insisting that our game was simply going through a cycle, and, right enough, the picture has improved considerably over the last two or three years.

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Martin Laird, with his eye-catching efforts on the other side of the Atlantic, got the ball rolling again before Paul Lawrie’s resurgence proved the catalyst for a welcome upturn in fortunes on the European Tour.

There, in addition to a trio of wins by Lawrie in the space of 18 months, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson and Stephen Gallacher have all enjoyed that sweet taste of success in the past two seasons while others, notably Marc Warren and Craig Lee, have come close to doing likewise.

With Laird and Lawrie having gone off the boil a bit – in fairness, both were producing high-quality performances so consistently for spells it was perhaps inevitable they were going to suffer a dip – the world rankings don’t look quite as rosy overall from a Scottish perspective than they did earlier in the year.

Then, Laird and Lawrie were both sitting comfortably inside the top 50 but, having slipped to 61st and 75th respectively, they have now been leapfrogged by Gallacher, who is up to 56th after his third-place finish in the Portugal Masters on Sunday.

For Scotland to be a force on the world stage, we need to get players into that top 50 again as that’s what opens the doors to the majors and those big-money WGC events, the next of which, the HSBC Champions, takes place in a fortnight’s time in China.

Equally important, though, is having a strong representation on the European Tour and heading into the final regular event on the 2013 schedule, this week’s Perth International, our boys can certainly hold their heads high.

It has been satisfying in itself to see two Scots – Craig Lee and Scott Jamieson – making good runs at becoming the first player on the European Tour to card a 59, the latter’s effort in particular being one of the highlights of the season.

What really matters, though, are performances over the course of a season and, barring a series of unlikely events, come Sunday night nine Scots will have full playing privileges for next season.

Gallacher, lying 14th in the Race to Dubai, is on course for his best-ever year as a professional and is set to be joined in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next month by Jamieson (25th) and Warren (27th).

Lying 59th and 61st respectively, Lawrie and Lee both still have work on their hands to make the 60-strong line-up for that event, but the latter can take comfort from the fact he’s not in the same lather he was a year ago before eventually claiming the final card.

Having finished 26th and 28th in the last two years, Ramsay will be disappointed to be sitting 69th but, at the same time, there are plenty others who would settle to be in his shoes and the same goes for David Drysdale (77th), Peter Whiteford (86th) and Chris Doak (105th).

While not totally safe yet – he needs to finish in the top 110 – Doak’s performance in Portugal, where he shared eighth spot, was a remarkable effort under enormous pressure. It was also a deserved reward for the hard work he has put into his game under the guidance of that wily fox, Bob Torrance.

With one last roll of the dice to come, there is still a chance that Scott Henry, lying 123rd, can boost that tally to double figures. Yet even as things stand, Scotland is performing better on the European Tour at the moment than Sweden, the country often held up as the shining template in the modern game. Seven Swedes are currently inside the top 110 in the Race to Dubai and that total includes Jonas Blixt and Carl Pettersson, who both play most of their golf on the PGA Tour.

Can we deliver in response to Paul McGinley’s challenge of Scotland providing three players for next year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles? It’s a tough one, even more so than when McGinley, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke achieved the feat on home soil at The K Club in 2006.

But, on the back of four players being involved in the recent Seve Trophy and a glut of promising performances, it certainly isn’t a fanciful notion.

Split from tennis star will favour McIlroy

Without a shadow of doubt, by far the most disappointing aspect of the 2013 campaign has been the sight of Rory McIlroy, almost unstoppable a year ago, only being able to muster a single top-ten finish so far this season.

Which is why reports of the Northern Irishman’s break-up with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki should be greeted with glee by everyone in the game because maybe now, he can finally start concentrating on golf again and reminding us what is so exciting about seeing him playing at his best.

Since striking his first blow in anger with his new Nike clubs back in January, little has gone according to plan for the two-times major winner – a slump in form seeing him him slip from the top of the world rankings to sixth behind Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose.McIlroy needs to start showing signs that his equipment switch wasn’t a massive mistake and, though he still has to resolve the small matter of leaving one management company to set up his own, the decision to split with Wozniacki is a positive step as far as his golf is concerned.

We don’t want to see McIlroy coming out of the crowd, as he once did, and hitting tennis shots at an exhibition event. Nor do we want to see Wozniacki, as she once did, grabbing a microphone and asking McIlroy a question during a press conference.

What we want to see is McIlroy playing with the gay abandon that earned him runaway victories in the US Open and the USPGA Championship and, though tears may have been shed, he’ll hopefully see before too long that relationships between two high-profile sporting personalities are not a recipe for success.