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There is Now a Glimmer of Sunlight for Scottish Golf

By: | Mon 11 Feb 2019 | Comments

Scotland may be the cradle of the modern game, but there are ominously darkening clouds hanging over the nation with regards to the ancient sport that it has long been synonymous with.

The most recent Golf Participation Report for Europe released by KPMG claimed that Scotland had lost nearly 5,000 registered golfers in 2017, following an even more stark drop the year before that, which topped the continental ranking for players drifting out of golf. Adding the figures reported in 2016, according to these annual findings, 37 courses were closed across Caledonia during that period.

Scottish Golf, the governing body, has for several years been navigating choppy waters through uncertainty and frequently criticised leadership, although those immediate storms have largely abated. Taking a focussed gaze at the professional game hasn’t painted the most encouraging of pictures either, as limited success at the highest level has disappointed, aside from the considerable efforts of the admirable Russell Knox, who has been based in the United States since his late teens. The man from Inverness currently stands (at 59th) as the lone Scot inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. David Drysdale, the 43-year-old who has enjoyed a bright start to the European Tour season, is the next best at 188th, but is yet to cross the line and savour that winning feeling.

Unfortunately, the women’s game doesn’t provide respite for those hoping for cheer. Progress greatly hampered by the dire state of the LET, 49-year-old Catriona Matthew – the 2009 Women’s British Open champion – is the highest placed Scot in the Rolex World Ranking at 185th. Michelle Thomson is second behind the European Solheim Cup captain but at a lowly 349th. Those facts make for chilling reading to those hoping to see the Saltire once again fly prominently in world golf.

However, following the spectacular comeback victory of David Law at the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia, there is gratefully reason to feel optimistic that the tide may be turning.

The 27-year-old’s brilliant eagle finish secured a maiden European Tour victory in just a fifth start as a member after earning his card from the Challenge Tour. It had been a lengthy and challenging road to the top for Law. Following an impressive amateur career, the Aberdonian struggled to establish himself within the paid ranks, before an unexpected win at the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Aviemore laid the foundations for his progression onto the main circuit.

It was a heart-warming triumph for many reasons, not least since it came just less than two years after the tragic loss of his son Freddie, who was stillborn. Now, David and wife Natasha have a healthy baby daughter with the added security of being a winner on tour. It has been an inspirational turnaround and marks Law as the early trailblazer for an exciting crop of Scottish golfers.

Keen observers would have noted that four of the 15 qualifiers from last year’s Challenge Tour represented the cross of St Andrew. Grant Forrest, Liam Johnston, Bob MacIntyre and David Law progressed onto the European Tour to compete alongside the stalwarts Drysdale, Scott Jamieson, Richie Ramsay, Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren. It’s a healthy contingent, not to mention the likes of Connor Syme, Ewen Ferguson and Bradley Neil, whose potential has yet to be fully realised. Calum Hill, a success on the American collegiate system, won last season’s Northern Ireland Open two months after making the cut in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Teenager Sam Locke was the Silver Medallist in The Open Championship at Carnoustie. Suddenly, on the surface, the situation appears less dire.

Ultimately, this represents only the roots of a brighter future. These emerging players have a long journey ahead if the halcyon days of the past are to be recaptured, when Scottish golfers were regular winners on tour and part of the furniture at the Ryder Cup, but it’s enough to feel encouraged.

What heights could this fresh generation reach? That’s a question to be answered in the months and years ahead, but the bar of achievement has been set fairly low. Before Law’s success, aside from Russell Knox’s impressive exploits, the last Scottish golfer to have won a European Tour-sanctioned event was Richie Ramsay in early 2015. Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher are the only Scots who have been part of a Ryder Cup this century.

Speaking of Lawrie, Law’s mentor, since the elder man from the north-east famously won The Open in 1999, it’s been a despairingly fallow time for Scottish success in the men’s majors. Apart from the agonising near-misses of the Yorkshire-raised Monty at St Andrews and Oakmont, Alistair Forsyth is the only Scot to have finished inside the top ten at one of the game’s four most prestigious events in 20 years. The Glaswegian was tied ninth in the 2008 PGA Championship, a decade ago.

Golf in Scotland will always survive, it’s too deeply embedded within the fabric of the nation not to, but can it thrive again in the face of the contemporary environment? That’s an existential thought that stakeholders are constantly pondering and conjuring potential solutions for. Having new stars winning tournaments, aspirational figures on TV from local communities and speaking with our accents can only be beneficial. David Law’s moment is hopefully just the beginning of more to come.

Those dark clouds remain present, but there is the smallest glimmer of sunlight breaking through. We better slap on the Factor 50, in that case, as the Scots are coming back.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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