Grant Forrest believes some advice he was given by 2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley has helped him lay a solid foundation in his professional career and, consequently, make the young Scot feel confident about having a successful campaign on this season’s Challenge Tour.
The European Tour’s feeder circuit gets underway today with the Barclays Kenya Open at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi, where an event won by the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam before they both became major champions is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Other past winners include Brian Barnes, Ken Brown, Garry Harvey, Craig Maltman and Mike Miller, with eight Scots having made the journey to east Africa on this occasion in a bid to get their 2018 campaigns off to a flying start in a tournament that carries the highest prize fund – £440,000 – all season on the circuit.
For Forrest, it’s his second year on the Challenge Tour since turning professional and the 24-year-old from North Berwick is optimistic about improving on last season’s promising rookie campaign, which produced three top-five finishes as he ended a respectable 34th in the Road to Oman.
“It’s been a good start to the year,” he said of having since made the cut in three European Tour events – in Australia, Qatar and South Africa. “But my main focus is the Challenge Tour and trying to finish in the top 15 to secure a European Tour card for next season. Having a few European Tour events under my belt before the Challenge Tour kicks off is good and, after Kenya, I’ve then got a new event in China, which is another good opportunity early in the season to make a dent in getting into the top 15.”
It was in the build-up to the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham, where he was part of a winning Great Britain & Ireland line up along with Ewen Ferguson and Jack McDonald, that Forrest listened very carefully indeed to something McGinley said during a pep talk for the home team.
“I’ve still got the same coach, Jonathan Porteous at Craigielaw, and keep doing the same things,” said the former Scottish Amateur champion in reply to be asked what he felt had been the secret in him making a promising start in the paid ranks.
“When McGinley talked to us before the Walker Cup, he said we had done a lot of good things to get to where we were at and not to make a major overhaul of our game and change things when we turned pro. He said to keep doing the same things. But a lot of guys who are good amateurs try to change everything when they turn pro if they hit a plateau. There’s a conflict because you want to keep getting better, but it can go downhill.”
Joining Forrest in the first of just over 30 events on this year’s schedule are Connor Syme, who has included the event on his schedule due to the European Tour being in the middle of a month-long break, as well as Scott Henry, Ross Kellett, Duncan Stewart, Jack Doherty, David Law and Chris Doak.
Kellett handed himself a timely boost for the campaign ahead when the Motherwell man claimed a two-shot win in the Mirage City Classic, an event on the Mediterranean Tour, in Cairo last week. “It was great to prove to myself that I can win and show my game is at a strong level,” said Kellett. “Winning is winning regardless where it is and it was nice to get over the line. As a result, I’m now excited to start the season this week.”
It’s a measure of the standard on this particular circuit these days that the line-up in Kenya features no fewer than 14 players with European Tour victories, including 2011 Rookie of the Year Tom Lewis and former Dunhill Links champion Michael Hoey.