Scots enjoying successful year on European Tour and now aiming to emulate Monty, says Martin Dempster
Not since Colin Montgomerie did the trick in 1999 has the Scottish Open fallen to a home player, the event back then carrying the title of Standard Life Loch Lomond but, more significantly, in its current prime slot the week before The Open Championship.
Marc Warren got himself in the mix at Castle Stuart in 2012, challenged again along with Stephen Gallacher at Royal Aberdeen two years later, and then gave another good account of himself at Gullane in 2015.
Richie Ramsay was there or thereabouts in the final round back at Castle Stuart in 2016 and, after the home fans had little to shout about at Dundonald Links the following year, Gallacher again got himself on to the leaderboard at Gullane 12 months ago.
It all comes down to how an individual performs during that week, of course, and it was interesting to hear Rory McIlroy admit recently that it took him a few years before being able to handle the expectations that were held of him in the Irish Open.
However, based on some encouraging displays so far this season on the European Tour, the Scots are entitled to some optimism as they head into the event’s first visit to The Renaissance Club.
In fact, it’s easily been the best opening six or seven months for the circuit’s Tartan Army for a good few years as the Saltire has been prominent on an almost weekly basis during the 2019 schedule.
Victories have been landed by Gallacher and David Law in the Hero Indian Open and Vic Open respectively, while a recent count showed ten top-five and 15 top-ten finishes by the current crop of Scottish card holders.
Making it a nice anniversary, this will be Gallacher’s 21st Scottish Open, having made his first appearance back in 1993 at Gleneagles. In contrast, Law is still a novice when it comes to this particular tournament. “This will be my fourth Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and it’s an event I’m really looking forward to,” said Law, one of four Scots to graduate from the Challenge Tour last season, when he won the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.
“Every other time I’ve played as an invite and, therefore, I never really felt like I’d earned my spot in the event. This year is different to be playing as a tournament winner.
“The first Scottish Open I played in 2010 at Loch Lomond is probably the most nervous I’ve been on a golf course – and it reflected in my opening tee shot!”
On one of his previous visits to Scotland’s Golf Coast, MacIntyre won the 2015 Scottish Amateur Championship at Muirfield, where he battled back from a four-hole deficit at the halfway stage in the final to come out on top.
The 22-year-old left-hander from Oban is now riding high in the Race to Dubai rankings in his rookie season on the European Tour and can’t wait to play in front of his home fans for the first time on the circuit.
“This is the most excited I’ve been for a golf event in a long time,” said MacIntyre.
“I just can’t wait to get playing on home soil. I know that I am going to be expected to perform and I obviously hope I do, but I am not going to worry about that as it’s going to be a learning experience yet again for me this season.”
For Grant Forrest, another of the Scottish graduates from the Challenge Tour last season, this will be a home gig in every sense as he lives in North Berwick and is attached to Craigielaw, where he came through the ranks as a junior.
“I didn’t get the chance to play in the Scottish Open as an amateur and now, with it being a Rolex Series event, it has just grown and grown in terms of magnitude,” said the 26-year-old, who also won the Scottish Amateur Championship before turning pro.
“I am really looking forward to it, and to have it own my doorstep makes it even more special. There will be more hype than any other event this year, probably due to the fact I’ll have a lot of family and friends watching me. There will be more external pressure, I suppose, but I have to try and treat it the same as every other week.”
In preparation, Forrest has paid the odd visit to The Renaissance Club when he’s been at home in between events this year. “It is a more modern links. I think it is comparable with Castle Stuart, with big undulating greens, and it will certainly be challenging if the wind blows. They can also make it pretty long. It looks as though the rough is getting a bit of growth as well.
“You could hit 15 greens here but not shoot under par because you could be miles away from the hole all day. It’s about trying to leave yourself as many 20-footers as possible and take your chance from there.”
Others set to fly the Saltire in East Lothian include Ramsay, who is attached to The Renaissance Club, as well as Warren, Russell Knox, Paul Lawrie, Scott Jamieson, David Drysdale and Liam Johnston.
“It is right up there in my achievements and second to none in the emotion it evoked,” recalled Montgomerie of his success on home soil. “I would love one of my countrymen to experience the same as they would feel 10 feet tall.”