Scottish Boys Championship: Craig Howie first Borders golfer to become champion

IT’S tiring stuff trying to win the Scottish Boys’ Championship. Peebles player Craig Howie admitted as much when asked how he planned to celebrate his historic victory in the first Paul Lawrie Foundation-sponsored staging of the event at Murcar Links.

“I think I’ll be sleeping all day tomorrow,” said the first Borderer to get his name on the roll of honour after beating Ewan Scott of St Andrews in his eighth joust of the week in the SGU’s season-opening tournament on the north-east coast. Most of those were stamina-sapping affairs, too, the 17-year-old having to dig time after time to keep his title bid alive. It was the same in the 36-hole final before a burst early in the afternoon round sent Howie, who had not been past the fourth round in three previous cracks at the title, on his way to a 7 and 6 success.

“I must have played more holes than anyone by a mile this week,” observed the new champion after becoming the second player from his club to claim a national title in recent years following Ailsa Bain’s triumph in the 2009 Scottish Girls’ Championship. With Torwoodlee’s Simon Fairburn having claimed a silver medal in the Scottish Youths’ Championship two years ago and Howie’s clubmate, Daniel Flannery, also being a member of the SGU Academy at the moment, the Borders is becoming an emerging force on the Scottish scene.

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“We’ve got some decent players,” admitted Howie, who, like Fairburn, has also joined Craigielaw in East Lothian to hone the links skills required for most of the events on the SGU calendar.

His coach is Colin Brooks, who encouraged Howie to try the two-thumb putting grip that worked so well at the business end of the event. Over the last ten holes in the final, for instance, he only needed 12 putts. “My putting was really good in the semi-final and final – I think that’s what won it for me,” said the winner, who plays off plus one. “Midway through last season my putting was really bad but then Colin Brooks introduced me to the two-thumb method. It takes a while to get used to it, especially pace putting, but after trying it out I liked the feeling so have stuck with it.”

Howie, who is set to leave Peebles High in a few weeks’ time, has a conditional acceptance for Stirling University. “Going to college in America wasn’t an option for me,” he said. “It’s a money thing, to be honest. My tuition will be free at Stirling and they’ve now got both Dean Robertson and Andrew Coltart there. The programme has come on leaps and bounds and it’s the best place for someone like me to go in Scotland.”

Scott, the last seed standing, was two up early on in the final, won the opening hole in the afternoon round to get back to all square but then watched his hopes of becoming the first St Andrean to lift the title in more than 50 years quickly disappear as Howie won seven of the next eight holes.

Magnanimous in defeat, the 16-year-old said: “Craig didn’t hit many bad shots out there and then started to hole some putts. He was a tough opponent to beat and thoroughly deserved to win the way he played. I wish I had given him a better game, but there is still no shame in being one of the last two standing from a field of 256. I’ve got one more crack at this title at Monifieth next year, when it will be almost a home event for me.”

Also on next year’s radar for the runner-up – Howie will be too old – is the European Boys’ Championship back at Murcar Links. “I played in that last year and it was an awesome experienced,” added the Madras College pupil. “Hopefully this week will help the players in that team next year have an advantage.”

While Howie is off down to Copt Heath today to prepare for this week’s Peter McEvoy Trophy, Scott will have his head buried in school books. “I’ve got four exams coming up,” he said. “I’m playing in the Battle Trophy at Crail this weekend but after that my next event will be the Scottish Youths at Ladybank in mid-May. I’ve got an exam on the first day of that but it’s only 20 minutes down the road for me and hopefully I’ll be able to get a late tee time.”