Could Scottish golf be on the verge of a renaissance? A glance at the European Challenge Tour money list certainly gives hope to long-suffering fans.
Four players from the home of golf occupy positions in the all-important top 15 of the money list, or Road to Ras Al Khaimah. Grant Forrest is top Scot at eighth, followed by Liam Johnston at 10th, David Law at 12th and Bob MacIntyre at 13th.
The top 15 on the money list following the $484,000 Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final ending Nov. 3 gain cards to the 2019 European Tour. Good cards, too. Unlike a European Qualifying School card, Challenge Tour graduates gain access to the lucrative Rolex Series events. With purses worth a minimum $7 million, Challenge Tour grads have a far better chance than Q-School grads of hanging on to tour status. Q-School grads play for far less money in bottom-of-the-food-chain tournaments.
And how Scotland could do with young players such as Forrest gaining a permanent foothold on the European Tour.
Scotland may have invented the game, but Scottish players haven’t exactly taken the game by storm over recent years. A comparison with the number of English players is painful reading for Scottish golf fans because, well, there is no comparison.
Even part-time golf fans could probably rhyme off a list of young English players in their 20s making names for themselves on the European Tour. Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Eddie Pepperell are all top-50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. And those are just the under-30s. England has seven top-50 players and another four in the top 100.
Scotland has one top-100 player: Russell Knox is a lonely figure flying the Scottish flag at World No. 62. The 32-year-old is the only Scottish winner on this year’s European Tour against eight English winners who account for 11 victories. Knox won the Irish Open in July.
There’s no arguing Knox’s heritage. He was born in Inverness. Yet he had to leave his homeland to hone the game that has made him successful. College golf at Jacksonville University arguably made him the player he is today, in much the same way Glasgow-born Martin Laird has forged a PGA Tour career thanks to Colorado State University.
The aforementioned English players are just those who won this year. Forty-three English players began the 2018 season with full European Tour cards, category 17 or better, against just 10 scots. Those 10 are comprised of players such as Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher, Richie Ramsay, Marc Warren and Scott Jamieson who’ve done their country proud by winning tournaments. Lawrie obviously deserves particular praise, as he’s the last Scottish male to win a major. He’s also one of two Scots along with Gallacher to play in recent Ryder Cup matches. Lawrie played on the Miracle of Medinah team of 2012, while Gallacher was in the 2014 team. English players have had no problem making recent European teams.
Critics will argue that England should produce more players since it can draw on a population of approximately 55 million versus 5 million for Scotland. That argument would be more cogent if not for one obvious fact: Scotland is the home of golf and should be a natural breeding ground for young talent.
Scotland has had no problem producing good amateurs. Forrest (2015) and MacIntyre (2016) are among five Scots since 2010 to reach the British Amateur Championship final. Bradley Neil won in 2014, and Michael Stewart and James Byrne were runners up in 2011 and 2010, respectively. Law is a two-time Scottish Amateur champion who should have played in the 2011 Walker Cup.
Somehow making the jump to the professional game has been a step too far for elite Scottish amateurs. Maybe Forrest, Johnston, Law and MacIntyre can form the vanguard of a Scottish resurgence. It’s about time. Gwk