The Scottish domestic season swings into action this weekend minus the two players who hit the headlines earlier in the year and also the duo set to get some valuable Challenge Tour experience this season.
Connor Syme and Craig Ross, the Australian and South African Amateur champions respectively, are missing from the line-up for the Scottish Champion of Champions at Leven Links, as are Grant Forrest and Ewen Ferguson.
While that is disappointing for the organisers of this long-standing event, schedules for the country’s top amateurs are carefully planned these days in a bid to prevent burn-out. In Syme’s case, his main priority this week was getting in some preparation down in Lancashire for next month’s Lytham Trophy.
With big events like that looming on the horizon, Forrest is taking the chance to recharge his batteries after being in Australia, South Africa, Spain and Portugal already this year, the latter trip for the Bonallack Trophy.
If he’d been fully fit, Ferguson would certainly have been in Fife to defend the title, especially as a three-shot success 12 months ago marked his maiden men’s win. Having hurt his finger playing basketball, though, the former British Boys’ champion is rightly refusing to take any unnecessary risks. It means the 33-man line-up is being spearheaded by Glencruitten left-hander Bob MacIntyre, who backed up some decent wins earlier in his career by claiming the Scottish Amateur title at Muirfield last summer.
His main rivals in the 72-hole stroke-play event could well be two players who have done wonders over the past few years to show how gratifying amateur golf can be in an era when youngsters seem in a rush to join the paid ranks.
Kilmacolm’s Matt Clark ended his 2015 campaign with an impressive victory in the South East District Open at Turnhouse while it’s doubtful if anyone is looking forward to not only this weekend’s test but the ones ahead this season more than reinstated amateur Barry Hume.
“This is a great event to get the year going and a nice links venue,” said the 2001 Scottish champion from Haggs Castle. “It’s a smaller field than normal but I’m sure the winning total will be similar to normal.
“As for my game, I’m happy with it and ready to play. Leven is a course I enjoy playing. Hopefully the weather is kind to us and not all negative. You can handle some rain or some wind in April – but not together!” Elsewhere, Catriona Matthew was among the later starters in the second round of the ANA Inspiration, the opening major of the 2016 season, at Rancho Mirage in California.
The North Berwick woman was lying joint third after the opening circuit, a shot behind Japan’s Ai Miyazato and Spaniard Azahara Munoz, after carding a four-under-par 68 at Mission Hills Country Club.
On the other side of the world, James Byrne was also in contention as his latest Asian Development Tour event, the Charming Yeangder in Chinese Taipei, reached the halfway stage. Sitting on 11-under after rounds of 65 and 68, the former Walker Cup player shared the lead.