Struggles of Scottish golf evident ahead of British Open

GULLANE, SCOTLAND - JULY 15: Brandon Stone of South Africa takes his tee shot on hole eighteen during day four of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane Golf Course on July 15, 2018 in Gullane, Scotland. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Harry How/Getty Images

Struggles of Scottish golf evident ahead of British Open

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Struggles of Scottish golf evident ahead of British Open

GULLANE, Scotland — Scottish golf fans will be hoping Russell Knox can end 17 barren years and deliver a home winner of the British Open for the first time since Paul Lawrie won the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 1999. Scots have very little to cheer about these days, so Knox is a welcome break from years of mediocrity. Sad thing is, there seems little prospect of anyone joining the PGA Tour-based Scot any time soon.

These are dark days for Scottish golf. Even the most perfunctory look at the numbers tells a sad story.

Knox is one of five Scottish players in this week’s British Open. There were eight in the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, and seven when Lawrie won.

Knox is one of 10 Scots with full European Tour cards (category 17 or better). One of those is 55-year-old Colin Montgomerie, who, like 49-year-old Lawrie, qualifies for membership off the career money list. Knox is the only Scot in the Official World Golf Ranking top 100, at 49th. He’s one of four in the top 200. That’s an improvement on 2007. There were only three Scots in the top 200 before the last Open at Carnoustie. However, it’s a long way short of the eight Scots in the top 200 the week before the 1999 Open Championship. Montgomerie was the world’s fifth best player in 1999, while Andrew Coltart was 74th.

The numbers in amateur and women’s golf also give Scottish golf fans little relief. Catriona Matthew remains the highest-ranked Scottish woman at 211th in the Rolex Rankings. Her nearest rival is Michelle Thomson at 292nd. Indeed, 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion Matthew has been the top-ranked Scot for most of her career. No one has stepped up to challenge her.

Scotland has had limited success in amateur golf in recent years. Aside from Bradley Neil’s British Amateur win at Royal Portrush, Robert MacIntyre (2016), Grant Forrest (2015), Michael Stewart (2011) and James Byrne (2010) have all reached the final. However, a peek at the World Amateur Golf Ranking doesn’t point to a slew of Scots joining Connor Syme and Neil on the European Tour any time soon. Ryan Lumsden is Scotland’s highest-ranked amateur at 102nd on the WAGR table. Euan Walker is second highest at 193rd. There are currently no Scottish females in the top 100 either. Kansas State’s Connie Jaffrey tops the Scottish pecking order at 123rd. Hannah McCook is 157th and Shannon McWilliam 198th.

Scottish golf suffers by its constant comparison to England. There’s no end of good young English players on the world stage, under 30s such as Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Eddie Pepperell, Andy Sullivan and others. Of the 10 Scots, only Syme and 2014 British Amateur champion Neil are under 30. Take Montgomerie out of that group of 10, and the average age is 35.

The obvious counter argument to the strength of English versus Scottish golf is England has more than three times the number of registered golfers. That’s a dubious argument for one very important reason: Scotland is the Home of Golf. The game was invented on the glorious links land that runs down both the western and eastern coastlines. Scotland should be a breeding ground for talent capable of taking on the rest of the world in the same way New Zealand dominates rugby despite a population of just over three million, and Norway excels at cross country skiing against far bigger nations with similar winter conditions.

Maybe the saddest indictment of the current state of Scottish golf is that Knox, like World No. 129 Martin Laird, had to leave his homeland to learn his craft. Although he was born in Inverness, Knox left home at 19 for Jacksonville on the tough college golf circuit. Maybe there’s a lesson there. Maybe Scottish juniors need to go away and learn before they can come back and excel. It’s certainly worked for Knox. Gwk

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