Dominik Holyer, the Sky Sports commentator, was effusive with his praise for Scottish golf at the Kenya Savannah Classic last week.
Perthshire’s Calum Hill was making an audacious run at his first tour title with a final round 64 that fell one putt on the 18th short of a play-off. Dom – Sky’s reserve man while Ewen Murray is taking the glory stuff – cited “big things happening in Scottish Golf”.
He referenced Connor Syme’s charge in the first of the Kenyan doubleheader just a few days previously. Of course, there was also Robert MacIntyre’s progress in the WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay in Texas.
It’s in marked contrast to Sky’s previous and now retired No 2, cuddly old Steve Beddow. Steve seemed to have a mysterious aversion to mentioning Scots on leaderboards of tournaments when on the microphone.
So much so we in the Scots press corps would call ANY leaderboard absent of our countrymen a “Beddow Board”.
A good time for Scottish pro golf – but overdue
But of course Dom is right: it’s a good – and one must say overdue – time for Scottish professional golf.
MacIntyre is front and centre. He confirmed his place in next week’s Masters in Austin, knocking out world No 1 Dustin Johnson on the way. He’s probably had it sealed – via being in the World’s Top 50 – since he went close in Dubai as far back as January.
Syme is a year older than Bob and his team-mate from the amateurs. He spent 2020 quietly building a foundation for a lengthy stay on the European Tour. The Drumoig-based player now has had three podium finishes in a year.
Hill got on the European Tour for the first time in 2020 and had a few growing pains. But he’s always been a serial scorer when he gets in full sail and he’s added some consistency to that in 2021. He was fourth in the best possible company in the Saudi event, and followed that up in Kenya.
As well as this trio, there’s also Grant Forrest, who had a sixth place in Dubai last winter and David Law, who won on tour in 2018. Craig Howie, Liam Johnson and Ewen Ferguson, not with full cards presently, have all had their moments on the European Tour in the last 18 months.
That’s just the younger guys. There’s still the older corps like Marc Warren, back to competing consistently, Stevie Gallacher, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson and the perennial David Drysdale, who also played well in Kenya.
A shot in the arm
We’re doing okay now. The young breed that have come through of late have been a shot in the arm. There was a decade when it seemed our best young prospects barely made a dent in the pro game.
There were multiple and complex reasons for that. Just last week there was a thorough reshuffling of Scottish Golf’s performance programmes aimed, obviously, at ensuring this current influx of players becomes the norm.
To that end Scotland’s last two major champions, Catriona Matthew and Paul Lawrie, have been co-opted. They’ll act as mentors, spread their wealth of experience and have already made significant input.
A number of development squads were also announced last week. Blairgowrie duo Gregor Graham and Cormac Sharpe, and Chloe Goadby of the St Regulus Club in St Andrews, are in the high-performance squad.
Auchterarder’s Daniel Bullen and Penny Brown, Blairgowrie’s Connor Graham and (still) Scottish men’s amateur champion George Burns (Crail) are in national performance squad.
No place for Rae after 23 years
The restructuring meant that Ian Rae, for 23 years Scotland’s national coach, is no longer part of the central programme.
During Ian’s time, Scotland won the Eisenhower Trophy in 2008 and four European men’s team titles.
There was anger in some circles when it was finally confirmed Ian’s role was ending last month. But really, latterly Ian was not really national coach, more a kind of co-ordinator.
While he coached a few himself – Richie Ramsay for example – he deferred to the players’ own personal coaches, quite rightly.
That’s been the form, successfully, in recent years. MacIntyre has been with coach Davie Burns for many years now. Calum Hill is now with Burns but really learned his chops at the unlikely location of the University of Western New Mexico.
Syme has been entirely developed with his Dad Stuart, the former PGA captain and owner of the Drumoig Golf Centre.
There seems to have been some overlap between Ian’s role and SG’s director of player performance, Clare Queen.
The former LET pro will now entirely co-ordinate the new programme with input from Matthew and Lawrie. The popular Spencer Henderson and Stuart Clayton will fill in any coaching gaps.
A more robust structure?
It seems like a robust structure now. Certainly, you can’t argue with the involvement and input of Matthew and Lawrie. They both have a track record of mentoring and development in their own right.
One suspects that Stevie Gallacher, whose Foundation has blossomed in recent years, would be there too but for the fact he’s still a full-time touring pro.
It should be a balance of leaving well alone technically, while being a repository of good advice. That seems to me to have as good a chance of prolonged success as anything we’ve previously tried.