One player in The Open but it’s certainly no crisis for Scottish golf

I’d barely stepped in the door of the media centre at Royal St George’s when it started. “One Scot in The Open, what an embarrassment,” observed a fellow scribe covering the 149th edition at the Sandwich venue.

Bob MacIntyre, pictured in last week's abrdn Scottish Open in East Lothian, is flying the Saltire on his own in the 149th Open in Kent. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.
Bob MacIntyre, pictured in last week's abrdn Scottish Open in East Lothian, is flying the Saltire on his own in the 149th Open in Kent. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

That is, indeed, the case, with Bob MacIntyre flying the Saltire on his own at the venue where Sandy Lyle delivered one of Scotland’s great moments in the game’s oldest major as he claimed the Claret Jug in 1985.

Yip, there is no denying that bare statistic is disappointing, but there are extenuating circumstances and it certainly doesn’t point to the Scottish game being in a state of crisis as The Open makes a welcome return after being cancelled 12 months ago due to the Covid-19 crisis.

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While he is still teeing up in The Masters on the back of his 1988 triumph at Augusta, Lyle is no longer exempt for this event while Paul Lawrie the 1999 champion, is also missing on this occasion.

Lawrie brought down the curtain on his European Tour event in the Scottish Open last October and, though he plans to play in the 150th Open edition at St Andrews next year, he’s hosting the Scottish Par 3 Championship in Aberdeen this week.

That’s his prerogative and here’s hoping that he gets a fitting send off on home soil if that Old Course appearance is his last hurrah on one of the game’s main stages.

Another significant factor in MacIntyre being left on his tod in Kent is that the qualifying process for this year’s event wasn’t what it normally is due to the pandemic.

By that, I mean there was no regional qualifier in Scotland and also no final qualifier. A number of tartan hopefuls crossed the border to try their luck, but there weren’t nearly as many throwing the dice as normal.

Grant Forrest, in particular, and Richie Ramsay gave it a good go when three spots were up for grabs through the recent Irish Open at Mount Juliet, but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

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The outcome of all of that is that this week is almost certainly the only occasion that there has only been one Scot in the event that helped put the country on the golfing map.

In fact, it seems the previous lowest number is four, which happened at Royal Liverpool in 2006, when Lyle and Lawrie were joined by Colin Montgomerie and Scott Drummond, who qualified as a past PGA champion.

In the last two stagings, at Carnoustie and Royal Portrush, the fields both had five Scots, while the biggest tally in the last 30 years is 14 at Turnberry in 1994 and Birkdale in 1991. The last time it reached double figures was Murfield in 2013 with 10.

To put things into perspective, on the latter occasion the four final qualifying courses were all at East Lothian venues while lots more spots used to be up for grabs in those events before the process became more global.

So, please don’t be fooled into thinking that Scottish golf is in crisis at a time when the likes of Forrest, Connor Syme and Calum Hill all look as though they can join both MacIntyre and David Law in becoming first-time winners on the European Tour.

Having already tasted success on the Challenge Tour this season, Craig Howie is also on course to be playing on the main tour next year, when he could well be joined by Ewen Ferguson.

Add in the likes of Ryan Lumsden making good headway early on in his professional career plus Sandy Scott sitting in the world’s top 10 in the amateur ranks and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to be reading something into this week and drawing the wrong conclusions.

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