While the overall state of Scottish golf is still in need of proper scrutiny, there can be no denying that significant progress has been made in terms of the country’s top young male professionals showing they are now able to hit the ground running.
For a decade, promising amateur after promising amateur seemed to struggle in making that transition into the paid ranks, creating the unhealthy situation last season whereby the average age of the Scots on the European Tour was 37.
The subsequent welcome success of 22-year-old Bradley Neil and Connor Syme, 23, in securing cards for the current campaign brought that down a tad and there’s a good chance that a few more Scottish players in their early to mid-20s will be sitting at the top table in the European game over the next few years.
The current Challenge Tour campaign, after all, from a Scottish perspective has arguably been the best ever on the European Tour’s feeder circuit and there’s potential for even more success with nine events still to come.
Calum Hill’s weekend win in the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle was the third tartan triumph of the season, adding to earlier victories from Liam Johnston in the Andalucia - Costa del Sol Match Play 9 and David Law in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.
Not since 2012, when Raymond Russell, Scott Henry and Chris Doak were our victors, have Scottish players enjoyed that level of success on the circuit that spawned the likes of Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood and Martin Kaymer as well, of course, as being a stepping stone for American Brooks Koepka becoming a three time major champion.
Add in Grant Forrest, twice, and Bob MacIntyre having got themselves into play-offs this season, as well as others, including Henry, Ewen Ferguson, Ross Kellett and Duncan Stewart, getting the Saltire on leaderboards on a prominent basis and there’s a feelgood factor on the Challenge Tour that is definitely proving that success does indeed breed success.
“There so many Scottish guys out there at the moment, especially young ones who are excelling,” observed Hill. “It is good to see and it is good to be part of. I’ve played practice rounds with the likes of Bob MacIntyre and also Jack McDonald and you can see it’s just a matter of time before they all do something because they are all very good.”
It’s the players themselves, of course, who deserve the bulk of praise for the headway being made but, at the same time, let’s give credit where credit is due for work that has gone on in the background over the past few years in particular in Scottish players getting the opportunity in the first place to secure a foothold on the second-tier circuit.
Just because someone hails from the home of golf would count for very little if it wasn’t for the leverage that Edinburgh-based management company, Bounce Sports, has secured for players through its role as promoter of the aforementioned SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge, which was staged for the 13th year running in June.
Johnston was playing on an invitation secured for him by Bounce Sports when he won, as did Hill. So was Stewart when he triumphed in Madrid two seasons ago and went on to secure his card. “They do an amazing job providing opportunities,” admitted Hill, “and, when you get such opportunities, strange things can happen, as I discovered at the weekend. As far as I know, I’m now into all of the events I’d like to be in for the rest of this season and I think it’s the same for next season. The role that Bounce Sports are playing in helping us Scottish guys is critical and I am certainly grateful to them.” It’s the same company that was the driving force behind SSE Team Scottish Hydro, which continues to support young professionals, both male and female, and has also been working in tandem with Scottish Golf, Aberdeen Asset Management and SSE Scottish Hydro over the last few years specifically on helping ease the transition from amateur to professional.
As part of that initative, the likes of Forrest, Ferguson, MacIntyre and McDonald all got a taste of playing on the Challenge Tour when they were still amateurs. The proof is in the pudding and you really do get the feeling that the last few months is just the start of something really exciting with this particular ‘Class of 2018’.
In the meantime, Scotland has definitely got it right strategically by having both an established Challenge Tour event and also that amateur to professional initiative.