Grant Forrest is hoping a visit to Bannockburn for the unveiling of this season’s Team SSE Scottish Hydro line-up can help inspire him to deliver some Scottish success at a time when English golf is riding on the crest of a wave.
Tommy Fleetwood, Chris Paisley, Eddie Pepperell and, most recently, Matt Wallace have all landed English victories already on the European Tour in 2018 while Paul Casey held off Tiger Woods to win the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour last weekend.
In contrast, Scotland’s last victory at the top level was Russell Knox winning on the US circuit in August 2016 while it is just under three years since there has been a tartan triumph in a regular European Tour event – Richie Ramsay’s victory in the Hassan Trophy in Morocco.
“I don’t think English golf is doing anything different,” insisted Forrest, speaking at the scene of one of the most significant battleground victories in Scottish history as he was named along with Kelsey MacDonald, Ewen Ferguson and Robert MacIntyre as this year’s Team SSE Scottish Hydro members.
“England have a lot more people and the English Golf Union probably has much higher funding as well. But I wouldn’t say what they do is vastly different. It just boils down to numbers. Then it’s also having the belief to go on and do it. Seeing young guys you’ve grown up playing against and beat encourages you to go on and do the same. You know they are not vastly different.”
For Forrest, one of the English players he locked horns with as an amateur was Matt Fitzpatrick, a four-time winner on the European Tour and still just 23, while both playing for both Scotland and the University of San Diego he often found himself competing against Spaniard Jon Rahm, the world No 3.
“Matt is probably the one that stands out for me in that respect,” added Forrest, who has started his 2018 campaign with three encouraging performances in European Tour events and is now gearing up for the start of the new Challenge Tour season in Kenya next week.
“We played a junior club competition when I was 14 and he was maybe 13 out in Spain. So I have known him since then. We also played a practice round at Muirfield for The Open (in 2013) and he went on to win the Silver Medal and won the US Amateur and played in the Ryder Cup.
“Seeing how that can happen and how the confidence of someone can snowball is good. It can take just one event. (British Masters champion) Paul Dunne is another great example while Jon Rahm was at Arizona State and we played a lot of the same tournaments.
“I played him in the European Championship and beat him one up in the quarter- finals. His rise has been rapid, but it doesn’t surprise me. I played a lot with him in college and he had the game and the confidence and he probably could have turned pro before he did. But, when he did, he was more than ready.”
Launched in 2011, the Team SSE Scottish Hydro initiative has helped Scottish players secure seven European Tour cards, mainly as Challenge Tour graduates, as well as two Ladies European Tour and four Challenge Tour victories. This year’s line up is the youngest yet, with Ferguson and MacInytre both just 21, Forrest 24 and MacDonald 27.
“This backing is important in terms of funding helping you make progress,” admitted Forrest, who made it to the Grand Final on the Challenge Tour last year and now has his sights set on finishing in the top 15 on this season’s money-list to earn a step up to the main circuit. “Without it we wouldn’t be able to do what we do and it’s helping me this season by having a full-time caddie this year in Scott Carmichael from Edinburgh.”
Team newcomer MacIntyre, who won on the MENA Tour in Kuwait in only his second start in the paid ranks towards the end of last year, will also be playing mainly on the Challenge Tour this year while Ferguson will be teeing up in a mix of events on the second-tier circuit and the Alps Tour, where newly-crowned Hero Indian Open champion Wallace won six times in 2016.
MacDonald, who, like both Forrest and Ferguson, is part of the initiative for a second year, started her season in South Africa last week, with the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco the only confirmed upcoming event on the LET schedule as players await confirmation about tournaments for the remainder of the year.