According to officials in the United States – Ted Bishop, head honcho of the PGA of America, has been especially vociferous on the matter – the proposal by the R&A and USGA to ban belly putters from the start of 2016 would be detrimental to the growth of the game, presumably, one suspects, because they are being thrust into the hands of youngsters from an early age.
Yet, as the game holds its breath waiting to see if the sport’s two ruling bodies will carry through that threat having completed a consultation period at the end of February, there is no sign whatsoever of a ban having any negative effect in golf’s cradle. Certainly not in the formative years of the country’s top young talent.
From dawn until dusk on a bitterly cold day on the Angus coast, players practised their putting – before and after playing in first-round ties in the Scottish season’s traditional curtain-raiser – but there wasn’t a single long or belly putter to be seen. Hardly an unconventional grip either, for that matter.
Young Scottish golfers are no different to their counterparts across the Atlantic when it comes to sporting the latest trendy gear and carrying fancy new drivers in their bags. Yet, it is refreshing to see that, despite watching Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els all win majors using long or belly putters in recent years, there is a line they appear reluctant to cross.
Perhaps it is because, on a day-to-day basis at their clubs, they rarely see older fellow members using such implements and, in some cases, it is certainly down to parental influence. Paul Lawrie, for example, has been tearing his hair out lately due to poor putting but he has not succumbed to anchoring.
By his own admission, Lawrie’s oldest son, Craig, often struggles on the greens, too – “I normally putt like my old man,” he joked – but he has also resisted the temptation to dabble on the dark side. Yesterday, his traditional-length putter earned its corn, with a string of putts dropping as the 17-year-old scratch player beat Shaun McBride of Cathkin Braes by 4 and 3.
Watched by the 1999 Open champion as well as mum Marian – the third year in a row they’have attended the SGU event – Lawrie reckoned the aforementioned railway line that flanks the first six holes had made him a tad over-cautious early on, but the hard work he has put in in preparation for this week soon paid dividends.
Afterwards, Lawrie, who was later joined in round two by his 14-year-old brother Michael, revealed he had ditched a plan to start a golf management degree at the University of Highlands & Islands at its campus in Dornoch so that he could follow in his father’s spikemarks. “I’m going to play as a full-time amateur this season then do my PGA training at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre – it’s exactly what my dad did at Banchory under Doug Smart,” he said.
Given that he is only in second year at Robert Gordon’s School, Michael is still some way off making similar career decisions but the flame-haired youngster is also proving to be a chip off the block with a golf club in his hands. Two down after three against Glenbervie’s Peter Maxwell, the five-handicapper certainly showed his father’s renowned battling qualities by fighting back to complete a family double – a welcome contrast to last year’s opening day – with a 2 and 1 victory late in fading light.
On a day when mitts, beanie hats and lots of extra layers were a standard requirement due to the biting easterly breeze – thankfully, it stayed dry and the sun made a welcome appearance in the late afternoon – all four of the seeds in action safely negotiated their first hurdles.
Tantallon’s Calum Hill, a semi-finalist at Dunbar two years ago, survived a scare as he edged home at the 19th against Craig Orr from Cochrane Castle, but George Burns (Williamwood), Connor Syme (Dumfries & County) and Alan Waugh (Cowglen) all progressed without breaking sweat. Syme, the Scottish Schools’ champion, won 7 and 6 against Craigielaw’s Oliver Duffy while Burns needed just one hole more to dispose of Euan Alexander (Murcar Links).
Top seed Ewan Scott, who received a bye due to the entry falling one short, will open his bid today against Inverurie’s Calum Morrison, but the dream of following in the footsteps of some illustrious names is already over for Glencruitten left-hander Robert MacIntyre, one of the other eight ranked players. Injury has forced him to withdraw without hitting a blow.