STUART Wilson, one of Scotland’s most decorated amateurs of the last 20 years, believes that “nurture” rather than “nature” is the key word in helping talented golfers in the game’s cradle fulfil their potential.
Along with Barry Hume, another of the country’s top amateurs at one time, Wilson has joined an ongoing debate on the state of Scottish golf, which was sparked by newly-turned 31-year-old Scott Jamieson being the youngest of our eight players holding 2015 European Tour cards.
Both are strong supporters of the Scottish game, with Hume insisting that, for a country of its size, it is a “fantastic achievement” for Scotland to have that number of players on what is the second strongest circuit in world golf after the PGA Tour.
At the same time, though, Wilson claimed there are “many stumbling blocks” on the journey from amateur to professional and believes the biggest one of all is attitude, either that of the players themselves or the people influencing them.
“I’m never sure if I should wade in on such debates and I certainly don’t have all the answers,” said Wilson, who won the Amateur Championship at St Andrews in 2004, the same year he picked up the Silver Medal as leading amateur in the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
“I am hugely indebted to the Scottish Golf Union for all the support they showed me as a player and I can never fault them as they are always trying to do the best for the players and improve their coaching and development schemes. They are committed to producing elite golfers and promoting the game at all levels.
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“We do have talent coming through and there is also enough support. But one of the stumbling blocks, and there are many, lies with the players themselves and the people around them. Their work ethic and mindsets are often flawed and not on the path for creating future success beyond their current level and abilities in the amateur game.
“The key ingredient we seem to lack is the correct attitude, both towards our successful players and from the players themselves and this is often born out of the environment they find themselves in.”
While a different world to the one he was used to a decade ago, Wilson has no problems whatsoever with the SGU taking squads to places such as the United Arab Emirates or South Africa for winter training.
“I can only see that having the best of support, equipment and overseas training (certainly at this time of year) can be a good thing,” he added. “The problem can be that too many people surrounding the players, usually friends and family, are deluded and think that, as the players have reaped these rewards at amateur level, they will be destined for greater things, when the reality is completely different.
“The players themselves can fall into this also, especially if those around them are constantly hyping them up. They consider themselves good enough to progress with what they have already achieved and their current ability when the reality is that they are at the bottom of a very large pile and there is all the more hard work to do to produce greater success. It is then a shock to them when they do not even make it on the lower-level tours.”
Despite all his success as an amateur – he also won the Lytham Trophy and played in various teams against the likes of Martin Kaymer and Edoardo Molinari – Wilson never gave serious thought to turning professional himself.
“The reason I did not have a crack at it? I am not even in the top ten ball-strikers at Forfar,” said the managing secretary at the Angus club. “Basically, I realised I was not good enough. I had worked really hard to get to where I was in the amateur game but could not see it going any further than that.
“Even now, with hindsight, I am sure this was the right thing for me. People refer to the fact that I beat the likes of Kaymer and Molinari, but they were a few years younger and on a upward journey when I played them, whereas I was ‘kicking the arse’ out of what talent I had and had plateaued as far as having much more room for improvement.”
Wilson, Europe’s captain for the last two Junior Ryder Cups, said he had recently been enlightened by a presentation made by former British Lion Tony Stanger – along with Stuart Ferrier – about the value of moving from a fixed mindset to an open one.
“There has been a lot discovered in this area and it needs to be applied to the players and how they approach developing their talent towards future success,” he claimed. “I firmly believe in nurture over nature and we need to create the correct mindset and environment for these young players to progress. This is not the sole responsibility of the players and coaches but of all the people who surround the players that provide support. We will have future success but this is fully dependent on the players themselves and how they apply themselves and how they utilise all the great resources that they are provided with. The players must have the correct attitude and mindset if they are to get better.”
Hume, a former Scottish Amateur champion who had a spell in the paid ranks before being reinstated, believes Scotland’s ratio of players per head of population on the European Tour is “strong”. He is also unconcerned by the fact the country won’t have anyone under 30 sitting at the top table next season, insisting players need time to find their feet in the professional game.
“There’s no rush to be a Tour player,” said the 32-year-old, who played on the same Walker Cup team as Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Marc Warren in 2001. “If they go too soon, they’ll set themselves back.
“It’s an unforgiving place. Worldwide Tour players don’t care if you were winning 72-holers or representing your country once you go professional. You’re better learning into your mid-20s in the amateur game, and turning pro to win than trying to find your feet on a rug that can be swept from under you at any point.”
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