While the absence of two of the leading lights is unfortunate - Grant Forrest has decided to recharge his batteries for two upcoming big events while Ewen Ferguson hasn’t fully recovered from a hand problem - this week’s Scottish Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen still promises to be a tasty affair.
Forrest apart, it features Scotland’s title-winning side in the European Team Championship in France just under a fortnight ago, when they retained that crown with victory over Sweden in the final at Chantilly, as well as some players helping reinvigorate the amateur game by turning back the clock.
In the absence of Walker Cup duo Forrest and Ferguson, it’s difficult to separate Drumoig’s Connor Syme and Robert MacIntyre from Glencruitten when trying to identify a title favourite for the event’s first visit to the Balgownie course since 1980, when
Nigg Bay’s Donald Jamieson beat Charlie Green 2&1 in a final played over just 18 holes.
Both love match-play, that’s for sure, having shone in the head-to-head format for their country - Syme, with five-and-a-half points from six matches, was the top performer in that Europen title defence while MacIntyre, a late replacement for Ferguson, picked up five points - as well as individually.
Syme, for instance, reached the semi-finals of the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, where he lost to compatriot and eventual winner Bradley Neil, before getting the 2016 campaign off to a flying start for Scottish golf as he claimed the Australian Amateur Championship at the start of this year.
His bid to land the Scottish equivalent starts today against Hamish Gorn, who hails from Orkney but has come on leaps and bounds at Aberdour over the past two years and has taken his game up another notch or two since heading to college in Missouri just under a year ago. It’s a game that Syme should win, but he’ll have been warned by his dad and mentor, Drumoig Golf Centre professional Stuart, about potential banana skins in the early rounds of this event.
Based on some of the golf he played in the junior ranks, Harburn’s Chris Curran certainly represents one of those to MacIntyre, who became the first left-hander in living memory to claim the title at Muirfield 12 months ago, when he came from four down at lunch to beat Craigie Hill’s Daniel Young in the title decider.
Having since reached the final of the Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl then performed well for both Scotland and Great Britain & Ireland - along with Syme, the 19-year-old helped new captain Craig Watson get his reign off to a positive start with a successful St Andrews Trophy defence at Prince’s in Kent - MacIntyre is understandably feeling quietly confident about his hopes of becoming the first player since the aforementioned Green to retain this title in 1983.
“Last year, at Muirfield, was probably the best week of golf I’ve had,” he admitted. “I’ve never played Royal Aberdeen, so it’s going to be a first. The Scottish Boys has been there a couple of times, but I was too young to play then, so it will be exciting.
“I’ve played Murcar Links across the road and, from what I’ve heard, Royal Aberdeen is kind of like Muirfield, perhaps more demanding. It’s hopefully another good week. I’ve only one guy to think about and that’s Chris Curran. I have to take it one round at a time like I did last year.”
Peebles player Craig Howie, who won the 2012 Scottish Boys at Murcar Links, Cawder’s Jamie Savage and Nairn teenager Sandy Scott are the other members of the European title-winning team in action in the Granite City, where it will be equally fascinating to see how the likes of Matthew Clark, Barry Hume and Euan McIntosh fare.
Their combined efforts on the domestic circuit over the past few seasons have been a breath of fresh air at a time when more and more youngsters take the plunge into the paid ranks at the first opportunity. Admittedly, both Hume and McIntosh made that switch themselves before being reinstated to the amateur ranks, where respective efforts this season - 34-year-old Hume won the Welsh Open Stroke-Play and McIntosh, 47, has consistently made his presence felt in Scottish Order of Merit events - suggest the young guns will not be getting it all their own way this week.