Martin Dempster: Young Scots are lagging behind

RYAN Gauld, the mercurial Dundee United teenager, has fairly set tongues wagging in Scottish football circles. Under-standably so if his performance against Partick Thistle at the weekend is anything to go by, as an ability to glide effortlessly past players, coupled with world-class vision, set up all four of his side’s goals.
Victory in the World Cup by Jason Day and Adam Scott was tempered by the fact that they had not been paired. Picture: APVictory in the World Cup by Jason Day and Adam Scott was tempered by the fact that they had not been paired. Picture: AP
Victory in the World Cup by Jason Day and Adam Scott was tempered by the fact that they had not been paired. Picture: AP

At 17, Gauld is the same age Rory McIlroy was when he made the cut in a European Tour event for the first time and also the same age Matteo Manassero was when he recorded two victories on the same circuit. Sadly, it has been quite some time since a Scottish golfer in that age group generated the hype currently surrounding young Gauld.

Lloyd Saltman, when he finished as leading amateur in the 2005 Open Championship, was probably the last time we genuinely believed a new superstar was set to be unleashed on the world stage yet, frustratingly, his career has stalled beyond belief over the past couple of years.

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This year alone has highlighted that, at present, the young guns in Scottish golf are lagging behind more experienced compatriots when it comes to climbing the ladder in the professional ranks. David Law, at 22, has earned a step up to the Challenge Tour next season after using the third-tier Pro Golf Tour to find his feet, but, the Aberdonian apart, the success stories on the feeder circuits for the European Tour have been provided by older players.

Alastair Forsyth, at 37, and 31-year-old Jack Doherty, for example, were our two Qualifying School graduates while Paul McKechnie, just a year younger than Forsyth, was the sole Scot to earn a step up to the Challenge Tour from the PGA EuroPro Tour. In truth, younger compatriots weren’t even at the races in both instances.

While it is pleasing that 12 Scots hold cards for the 2014 European Tour, the disappointing aspect about that is the fact only one among that number, Scott Jamieson, is in his 20s and, even then, that’s only until Thursday, when he celebrates his 30th birthday.

The likes of Jamieson, Stephen Gallacher, Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay and Craig Lee may all well have their best years ahead of them, but – and watching Gauld turn on the style at the weekend hammered the point home – Scottish golf needs players to start making people sit up and take notice at an earlier age.

That is why the group of players currently out in the United Arab Emirates on a training trip with the Scottish Golf Union need to use that to help them come out next season with all guns blazing on the amateur circuit. By that, I don’t necessarily mean winning events in South Africa, as the likes of Law, Michael Stewart and Brian Soutar have done over the past few years.

We need to see the Saltire up near the top of leaderboards again in events like the Lytham Trophy, the St Andrews Links Trophy and the Brabazon Trophy. We need to see a home player winning the Scottish Stroke-Play Championship. In 18 months’ time, we want to see the Walker Cup selectors with a posse of Scots in contention for a match at Royal Lytham rather than them having the chance to deliver another embarrassing snub to the home of golf.

Is all that possible? Only time will tell, but it is encouraging that the group currently enjoying world-class facilities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi include four 17-year-olds – Brad-ley Neil, Ewen Ferguson, Ben Kinsley and Robert MacIntyre. Add in Ewan Scott, currently at college in America, and Connor Syme, who is recovering from a broken ankle, and the raw talent is certainly there.

What needs to happen now is for the gauntlet to be thrown down to all of them. Is there a Ryan Gauld amongst them? Is there someone who has the X-factor and is ready to make the golfing world sit up and take notice in 2014?

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According to Peter Uihlein, the European Tour’s newly-crowned Rookie of the Year, Neil could fit the bill, having been so impressed by the Blairgowrie player when they joined forces in this year’s Dunhill Links Championship that he donated £10,000 – the American’s prize for them finishing second in the team event – to the SGU to help with Neil’s development.

“We had a great time together and I’m delighted to be able to do something that might help him and his game,” said Uihlein of a gesture that was reported in The Scotsman on 24 October. “Brad is young, very young. But he’s a very solid player, hits it a long way and has a good game around the greens. He has a lot of potential and just has to keep working on it.”

The emergence of a cracking young player is one of two missing pieces in Scottish golf’s jigsaw at present. The other is some presence in the world’s top 50, and let’s hope both those bits have been fitted into place by the time the Ryder Cup comes around next September.

World Cup diminished by loss of team spirit

If last week’s World Cup in Australia was indeed a test run for golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016, then it would be good if the organisers of the event in Brazil listened to the winning combination at Royal Melbourne.

While delighted to make the most of home advantage to land their country’s fifth win in the event, Jason Day and Adam Scott both said they had found it strange not to be paired at any time over the four days. It was a result of a change to the format by which the individual standings became the primary focus, with the team competition relegated to a sideshow.

For Day, who also landed the individual spoils, it was a lucrative event and one which served to remind us that this talented individual could quite easily have beaten Scott to a major before his compatriot’s Masters triumph in April. Yet, his joy was tempered slightly by the fact he didn’t get the feeling of having been in a team environment, as is the case in events like the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup or, in the women’s game, the Solheim Cup.

The old World Cup format involved competitors playing a mix of fourballs and foursomes. It was a blend that helped bring out the best in Stephen Gallacher and Martin Laird when they finished joint-fourth in China two years ago. Apart from a good opening round by Laird, the same Scottish pairing failed to fire on all cylinders on this occasion. That was perhaps partly caused by not feeling as though they were actually a team this time.

Golf has ample 72-hole stroke-play tournaments and it’s a shame the main element of an event carrying the title of World Cup has been diluted in such a way.