It looks as though Scottish Open organisers could be fighting a losing battle in the bid to secure a star-studded line-up for this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management event as it returns to Castle Stuart.
Rory McIlroy, the world No 3, has already confirmed that he won’t be there and a question-mark is even hanging over Rickie Fowler, the defending champion after his thrilling triumph at Gullane last July.
Twice during the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, which he won on Sunday to become No 4 in the world, the American had the chance to lay his cards on the table about the Scottish Open but didn’t take either opportunity. “I’m going to celebrate this one first,” he said, smiling as he touched the Falcon Trophy, after being asked by The Scotsman during his winner’s press conference if it was likely that he’d be at Castle Stuart.
Definitely not the sort of response you’d expect from a defending champion though, in fairness to the 27-year-old, scheduling for the game’s top players this summer is a huge headache due to some re-shuffling of events because of golf’s return to the Olympics in early August.
They will barely get time to draw breath during a hectic few weeks that starts with the US Open then takes in the French Open/WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Scottish Open, the Open Championship and the US PGA Championship before going for gold in Brazil.
It is easy, therefore, to understand what McIlroy was saying when he talked in Abu Dhabi about it being a “week on, week off, week on, week off” approach that he’d be taking around then, with the Scottish Open, unfortunately, coming into the “week off” category on this occasion.
It may well be the case that Fowler has still to decide his June/July schedule, insisting that his focus for the moment is “getting ready for Augusta”.
In admitting, having been pushed by this correspondent on the Scottish Open, that “the summer schedule is going to be a bit tough”, you get the feeling, though, he knows that he probably won’t be at Castle Stuart but just doesn’t want to come out and say that at the moment.
So, where would that leave the event’s organisers in terms of star attractions?
They have done extremely well in that respect over the past two years, in particular, when the event visited Royal Aberdeen and Gullane.
McIlroy was there in the Granite City and would have also have played in East Lothian if it hadn’t been for his untimely football injury.
World No 1 Jordan Spieth, of course, would certainly make up for the Ulsterman being absent for the event’s return to the Highlands, and, although in the same position as all the others, at least the John Deere Classic isn’t up against the Scottish Open this year. An event he’s showed great loyalty towards, having secured a sponsor’s invitation as an 18-year-old amateur in 2012 then making his PGA Tour breakthrough in it the following year, it has been moved back on the schedule and, in fact, is in the same week as the Olympic golf event.
“I’m not sure what my schedule is around The Open,” said the 22-year-old, speaking in Abu Dhabi.
“The John Deere is a few weeks later than normal this year, so I will have to wait and see. So I can’t say for certain at this stage whether or not I may commit to playing the Scottish.”
It remains to be seen if Justin Rose, the 2014 winner, is planning to play in the event for a third year in a row, but the one big name we can surely be guaranteed to have in the Castle Stuart line-up is Phil Mickelson. During the event’s three-year run there before embarking on its tour around the home of golf, no-one praised the venue outside Inverness more than “Lefty” and, of course, he won there in 2013 before becoming Open champion for the first time a week later at Muirfield.
Having him alone for a sole appearance of the season in a regular European Tour event would still be a feather in the Scottish Open’s cap, but, and there’s nothing anyone can really do to prevent otherwise, there may not be many more on this occasion.
That’s not to say it won’t be a fitting spectacle, though, because Castle Stuart is a stunning venue, is a better pre-Open Championship than many people give it credit for and deserves another opportunity to be showcased around the world.
Ramsay: Rookies must get used to big boys’ courses
Measuring 7,583 yards and with fairways flanked by penal rough, Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a “big boys’ golf course”. The type of track young Scottish players need to get used to, according to Richie Ramsay, if they want to hit the ground running on the European Tour.
“The first time I came and played here, I remember thinking, jeezo,” recalled Ramsay, the leading Scot among eight in the field for the latest HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. “I couldn’t believe that Martin Kaymer had shot 24-under in winning here (in 2011) – that was incredible.
“Moving forward, this is the type of course the guys who are two or three years from turning professional need to get used to. I’m not saying they are going to be playing courses like this all the time but, even if the rough was down, you’d have to be looking at scoring four or five-under.”
Ramsay, of course, came through the amateur ranks himself and, gradually, you sense that he’s starting to use his own experience to offer advice in a bid to try and help improve Scotland’s recent struggle with players making the transition from amateur to professional.
“When I first came out, my attitude was like night and day to what it is now,” he added.
“That has obviously come with experience, but I think these guys need to be taught what to expect so that they don’t get a shock.
That way, you can hit the ground running.”