“It’s a special hole for my family,” he declared after carding a four-under-par 67 to sit just one shot off the lead, held by Greig Hutcheon and Chris Currie, after the delayed first round in the £40,000 Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship.
“My grandad, Thomas Sneddon, was a member here for 40 years. He died last year and we scattered his ashes on the 14th hole. It was his favourite hole and my mum, Karen, who was caddying for me, got emotional when I made my eagle.”
It was set up by a 3-wood to ten feet and was followed by another eagle at the last. The late flourish elevated Binning to a lofty position after being three-over after six as blustery conditions proved troublesome at the Perthshire resort.
“My grandad lived behind the third hole at Auchterarder Golf Club and he used to bring me here to play the par-3 course in front of the hotel,” added Binning, who turned professional almost exactly a year ago and played eight events last season on the PGA EuroPro Tour.
He has secured playing rights for the third-tier circuit again this year, but is looking to concentrate mainly on the Tartan Tour after starting his PGA training through an attachment to Mearns Castle Golf Academy.
“This year I’ll hopefully have a busier schedule, including the P&H Championship, Northern Open and also the 36-hole qualifier for the Scottish Open with its £50,000 prize fund,” mused Binning, admitting that he was still trying to adjust to the fact he is playing the Royal & Ancient game for a living.
No-one has done that more successfully on the Scottish circuit in recent years than Hutcheon, who also made 3 at the last – courtesy of a 40-foot putt in his case – as the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre player made an ominous start in an event he has won twice already.
That eagle capped a strong finish after he hit a gap wedge to three feet for a birdie at the 16th then, following an approach with the same club, holed from ten feet to emulate the feat at the next. “The putt at the last never looked like going in, but it meandered right at the end,” reported Hutcheon, having seen one of his playing partners, Paul O’Hara, chip in seconds earlier.
Currie, who finished second in this event four years ago, wasn’t in the best of fettle after putting off the green at the tenth. However, four birdies thereafter – at the 11th, 13th, 14th and 18th – brightened his mood by the time he emerged from the scorer’s office.
“My game has been solid for the past two years,” said the 32-year-old. “It has gone to another level really since I started working with Alan Martin, the teaching pro at Buchanan Castle. Playing a bit on the PGA EuroPro Tour last year also helped me kick on but, unfortunately, I can’t afford to play that any more.”
Change has also been in the air lately for David Orr, who claimed this title on the neighbouring PGA Centenary Course six years ago. “I became the head pro at Eastwood on 1 March so my mind has been elsewhere lately as I get everything set up there how I want it,” said the 40-year-old after signing for a 67 along with Binning and Nairn Dunbar’s Gavin Hay.
“I’ve played only 36 holes of competitive golf in the last six months and hit only 300 balls in practice. I had little expectations coming into this event but today showed that I’ve not forgotten how to play.” Evidenced as he recovered from being three over after five to cover the remaining 13 holes in seven-under, the turnaround having been sparked by a majestic 3-wood to 20 feet for an eagle at the long sixth.
Paul Lawrie, a two-times winner but making his first appearance in the event for a decade, opened with a 70, one better than defending champion Gareth Wright.
Lawrie had a tough day on the greens, the trend being set when he four-putted the first from 25 feet. In the end, he had to hole a three-footer to stop the damage being more severe. “From tee to green I struck it really good – the best I’ve hit it for a long time,” he said, ruefully.
Following Sunday’s washout and the prospect of more bad weather today, Scottish PGA officials squeezed as much play as possible out of yesterday. The klaxon was sounded at 8:42pm, with the action resuming at 7am this morning in the hope that the second round can be finished before the worst of the expected rain.