Martin Dempster: Scottish golf struggling due to lack of role models like Sandy Lyle

Sandy Lyle poses proudly in his green jacket after winningThe Masters in 1988. Picture: Getty Images
Sandy Lyle poses proudly in his green jacket after winningThe Masters in 1988. Picture: Getty Images
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No Scot in the world’s top 100 in the men’s game, just one in the top 200 in the women’s global rankings and a 60-year-old likely to be the sole Saltire-bearer in next week’s Masters. The current sorry state of Scottish golf at the top level doesn’t exactly reflect a sweeping statement made in 2010 about where our game would be standing in global terms ten years’ later.

Delivered around the time Steve Paulding, a cycling expert, was appointed as Scottish Golf’s performance director, it was claimed that Scotland would be the No 1 golf nation in the world based on performance by 2020 and, according to a reliable source, that stayed on the Scottish Golf Union website for six years.

How silly and way off the mark is that prediction looking right now and, if anyone thinks otherwise, then they are clearly oblivious to the fact that no Scottish male golfer that has turned professional the in last ten years has retained a Tour card. Just think about that for one minute. Not since Richie Ramsay and Russell Knox joined the paid ranks in 2007 has a single Scottish golfer come through the ranks and been able to hit the ground running as a professional.

Admittedly, the likes of Connor Syme, Bradley Neil and Grant Forrest have delivered cause for optimism with some of their performances over the past few months and, hopefully, they can do something about that particular statistic. But there can be no denying, surely, that serious questions need to be asked about why that bold statement eight years ago has left the governing body with egg on its face.

“Are we using the best techniques? Are we using the best methodologies? Do we have the best coaches in the places they are? How can we raise standards?” All questions asked by Paulding when he was appointed by then chief executive Hamish Grey on the back of his role in helping Great Britain’s cyclists enjoy track glory in the 2008 Olympics in Sydney.

He left Scottish Golf in 2006 to take up a post with British Athletics, yet every single one of those questions seem every bit as relevant now because, let’s be honest here, it’s embarrassing for the sport’s birthplace not to have a player in the world’s top 100 and Sandy Lyle – the aforementioned 60-year-old – should at least have had one of his compatriots for company as he celebrates the 30th anniversary of becoming the first British golfer to win at Augusta National. According to Paul Lawrie, the lack of a role model like Lyle, a two-time major winner and one of the best players of his generation, is part of the current problem in Scottish golf. “It’s just one of those periods where we haven’t got anyone for the players to chase after,” said Lawrie. “Take Sandy when he was winning majors and Monty (eight-time European No 1 Colin Montgomerie) when he was doing well. Myself and Stevie Gallacher wanted to do what he was doing and I think that sort of things spurs people on.

“We haven’t got anyone out there at the minute acting as a role model. You really need five or six in that position, but even one would be good. Look at what happened in Irish golf after Padraig Harrington won his three majors in quick succession [the Open Championship in 2007 and 2008 and US PGA Championship in 2008]. It had a massive effect on other players [Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy all subsequently becoming major champions as well].

“Stevie Gallacher said he pretty much got into the Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles due to me having been in the Medinah team two years earlier. If the roles had been reversed, I would have felt exactly the same. We just don’t have that at the minute and I think that is really killing us.

“I feel the talent is there and I think all the players out there at the moment are capable of being in the top 100 and a few really should be in the top 50. At the moment, though, that’s not the case and it’s sad as we want players up there doing well. It’s not for the lack of trying, though, that they aren’t higher up the rankings. They are as disappointed as everyone else that they are not in the top 100.”

This column, of course, will be deemed to be “negative” by those who refuse to accept the reality of the current situation. Not at all. It’s about trying to highlight something that needs to be addressed by incoming Scottish Golf chief executive Andrew McKinlay because this nation needs to be a powerful force on the global stage and that’s blatantly not the case right now. Let’s try to do something different to change that.