Having already devalued the Scottish Women’s Championship by failing to pick this year’s winner, Ailsa Summers, for the Home Internationals in Wales next week, Scottish Golf performance director Steve Paulding and his fellow selectors are set to come under pressure no matter the outcome of today’s 36-hole final in the men’s equivalent at Royal Aberdeen.
As fate would have it, the players still standing in the Granite City – Nairn’s Andrew Burgess and George Duncan from Windyhill – were nowhere close to being considered for two spots that have been left open in Scotland’s side for the upcoming Men’s Home Internationals when this match-play marathon got underway on Monday.
Neither, in fact, has a world ranking, which is the main barometer these days when it comes to selection, as Summers discovered when the Carnoustie Ladies member failed to earn a place in a seven-strong side heading to Conwy despite her Scottish title triumph at West Kilbride last month. The reaction to that decision led Paulding to issue a statement defending the selection process and this latest headache is no doubt something he’d have preferred to have avoided, although nothing should be taken away from either Burgess or Duncan for setting up their 36-hole title showdown.
Match-play, of course, can be unpredictable and that has certainly been the case this week over the Balgownie Links, where Justin Rose won the 2014 Scottish Open, and now a surprise champion will be added to a roll of honour that includes the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Ronnie Shade, Charlie Green and Stephen Gallacher.
While Duncan, who is bidding to follow in the footsteps of fellow Windyhill man Andrew McArthur, the 2002 winner at Western Gailes, was honest enough to admit that he “rode my luck a bit” to reach this stage, there was absolutely nothing fortuitous about the way fellow 21-year-old Burgess won his semi-final against top seed Connor Syme.
The pair shared 13 birdies in a top-quality contest that was decided when Burgess, who, off +1.5, was balloted out of the Scottish Stroke-Play Championship at Gullane last month, held his nerve to hole a five-footer for a three after Drumoig man Syme, having found sand off the tee, had rolled in a 12-foot par putt to see what his opponent was made of. Stern stuff was the answer.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Burgess, who was round in approximately 67, five-under-par, and Syme 68. “I’ve not played golf like that for a long time and the little 7-iron I hit from 175 yards at the last was up with my best.” He’s on a golf scholarship at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, but is coached by David Torrance, the PGA pro at Nairn Dunbar and last year’s Scottish Coach of the Year.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” added Burgess, who has had his older brother Sean on the bag here since he went out in the first round. “I’ve played well all week, to be honest. I won the club championship at Nairn in May and I’ve been hitting the ball well and knew if I could get the putter going this week it would be good.”
By coincidence, the men’s Home Internationals are being played this year at Nairn. “I’m very aware of that,” confessed Burgess, who, on that basis alone, probably has a stronger chance of earning one of those remaining berths, with Glenbervie’s Graeme Robertson probably having done enough to secure his sixth successive appearance in the four-cornered event by reaching the last 16 this week.
Duncan, who shares the same name as the Scot who competed in three Ryder Cups, one of them as a playing captain as Great Britain were victorious at Moortown in 1929, beat Elderslie’s Alasdair McDougall, conqueror of defending champion Robert MacIntyre earlier in the day, at the 20th to book his place in the final. “I was happy to just get past the second round, to be honest,” admitted Duncan, a five-time Windyhill club champion, after he’d recovered from being three down with five to play to beat Malcolm Pennycott (Royal Burgess) in the quarter-finals before staying alive again in the afternoon despite being one down on the 17th tee.
“I think Andrew is maybe a surprise finalist as well,” said Duncan, who is at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, of the opponent standing between him and the title. “I’m still a bit shocked to be in the final, to be honest, but I’ll just go out and have fun and see if I can ride my luck one more time this week.”