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Looking for the Next Generation of Scottish Winners

By: | Wed 29 Jul 2020 | Comments

Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie - between them they won three majors, garnered 23 Ryder Cup appearances and won a staggering 145 golf tournaments. Montgomerie and Torrance also captained Europe to victory in the Ryder Cup.

These men also have something else in common - they are all represent The Saltire. The home of golf, the country where it all began. You can also throw in Bernard Gallacher, Gordon Brand Jr, Brian Barnes, John Panton, Eric Brown, Ronnie Shade, Tommy Armour, Willie Anderson, Jock Hutchison, George Duncan, James Braid, Willie Park, Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris - the history of the sport is littered with famous Scottish names.

So what has gone wrong? Marc Warren won a low-key event in Austria and Stephen Gallacher won the Indian Open in 2019. Martin Laird and Russell Knox have achieved success both on the PGA and European Tours but what was once a production line has turned into a trickle. And the future is not looking especially bright either, although last year Golfshake Editor Kieran Clark took a positive view of the situation.

The highest-ranked Scot is Robert MacIntyre, a highly promising left-hander who is 81st. To discover the next Scot on the list you need to go all the way down to 161st to find Callum Hill. Only Montgomerie, Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher have represented Europe in the Ryder Cup this century. As a Scot, I find this deeply embarrassing. Almost as bad as that is the number of golf courses closing across the land. The home of golf? It really doesn’t feel that way right now.

Knox has been based in Florida since he was a teenager and has won twice on the PGA Tour. In contrast, England has 11 players in the top 100, golfers who win for fun all over the world. Men such as Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. The women’s game in Scotland is in even worse shape, with only Gemma Dryburgh and Carly Booth in the top 300, the great Catriona Matthew now ranked 391st.

(Paul Lawrie - Scotland's Most Recent Men's Major Winner)

Lawrie believes the problem stems from the fact that youngsters in the country don’t have a hero. And he should know a thing or two about that, being the last Scottish man to win a major - the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, when he overcame a 10-shot deficit to defeat Justin Leonard and Jean Van de Velde in a playoff.

“We don’t have a Rory,” says Lawrie. “We don’t have anyone who can get kids exited about playing golf. And it’s been a while now since we have had anyone playing at the very top level. Colin Montgomerie was our last superstar. He was amazing in the Ryder Cup. Kids would sit at home and watch him play and think ‘I want to be a golfer.’ But we don’t have anyone like him or Sandy Lyle now.

“Plus, golf is struggling generally at the moment. Scotland is not unique in that respect. We’re not a big country. And there is no guarantee that, just because we are the home of golf, we are going to produce an endless stream of great players. Right now, we have a bunch of good players who are also good lads. Russell Knox is certainly one of those. But he is a bit detached living in America. We need someone who looks like he could win a major.”

It has to be said that Knox and Laird are more focused on attempting to retain their playing privileges on the PGA Tour than looking like men who are capable of bringing home the bacon in majors.

(The Home of Golf Needs Champions

The latest KPMG Golf Participation Report for Europe reveals that the game in Scotland lost 7,521 golfers in a year. It meant there were 180,281 registers golfers in the country, compared to 187,802 in 2017 and 209,812 in 2014.

The latest report lists a total of 560 courses in Scotland (although that number has since plummeted), with an average of 322 registered golfers per course compared to 342 in England, 463 in Ireland and 297 in Wales. The loss of members has led to a number of clubs being forced to shut in Scotland over the past few years, with others battling to survive.

The amateur game in Scotland is administered by Scottish Golf, an organisation whose raison d’être is to grow the game. It has been accused of acting as a financial crutch for up-and-coming amateurs with professional aspirations.

Countries such as Denmark and Spain churn out winners for fun. Coaches who work with children in Denmark at club level go with them all the way through until they turn professional, thus providing stability. Spain has a centre of excellence in Madrid where youngsters and coaches talk and learn from one another. So why on earth can’t Scotland do the same thing, especially since golf is such an engrained part of the culture? As a kid, you either play golf or football. Perhaps the answer is to send the country’s most promising youngsters to Spain or Denmark!

For the record, Montgomerie won 54 tournaments, Torrance 44. Knox has won on seven occasions and Laird five times. Where on earth are the next generation of Scottish winners coming from? Answers on a postcard please.

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