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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: This group of young Scots will inspire each other to do even better

Calum Hill's win in the Cazoo Classic showed Scottish Golf is in a good place.
Calum Hill's win in the Cazoo Classic showed Scottish Golf is in a good place.

It’s still green shoots, and being Scottish, we’re tentative before declaring anything is being done right.

But it’s easy to be convinced that the current development stream in the Scottish game is starting to really work. No, I mean, REALLY work.

Just a few weeks ago, for many we’d hit the absolute nadir. Scotland had one player – Robert MacIntyre – in the Open at Sandwich. That was enough for some to basically call an end to 500 years of Scottish golf in entirety.

Wiser counsel – ahem – suggested this was just timing and/or a special set of circumstances. We are actually better off for up-and-coming male players than at any time in the last 20 years.

Exactly a month later, wouldn’t you believe it, we have back-to-back European Tour winners in Grant Forrest and Calum Hill.

MacIntyre’s example has sparked his peers

MacIntyre is still in the world’s Top 50, of course. Hill moved into the top 100 as a result of his victory in the Cazoo Classic at the weekend. He’s also close to the top 20 on the Race to Dubai now.

We’d felt all season that Hill would win somewhere. Forrest’s win was a bonus but not a surprise. Many felt he had the ability – and crucially the power and length – to thrive.

David Law is slightly older than these three but is possibly playing his best golf in his three years on the main tour right now.

Connor Syme, the fifth of our quarter of players aged 30 or under, is the next one for whom you feel it won’t be long. Behind them, we can expect to see Ewen Ferguson and Craig Howie join on the main tour next season.

That would be seven younger players, four of whom have already won, allied to the veterans Stephen Gallacher, Richie Ramsay, Marc Warren, David Drysdale and Scott Jamieson. Depth wise, I’m struggling to remember a stronger unit on the tour in my 30 years covering it.

They all seem to be inter-linked

There are differences between them all, and similarities. MacIntyre, Hill, Forrest and Gallacher are all part of the Bounce Management group headed by Iain Stoddart.

Bounce’s arrangement with Scottish Golf to introduce young players to the professional game has been by far the best solution to the amateur-to-pro problem that blighted us for a decade. Between 2015 and 2018, there were only two Scottish wins on Tour, both by Russell Knox.

Another connection is MacIntyre and Hill have the same coach, Davie Burns, who is also attached to Gallacher’s Foundation and working with the best youngsters in development there.

Syme and Ferguson are both part of the Niall Horan’s Modest! Management group. All of the group bar Hill came through Scottish Golf’s own programmes. Calum mostly developed in the unlikely location (for a Scot at least) of Western New Mexico University.

But the key is they have all come through the pro ranks together and they are spurred on when one of the others achieves anything.

This was maybe best illustrated by Hill’s delighted reaction to Forrest’s win at Fairmont. He put aside his clear disappointment he’d not won himself from leading with 10 holes to play.

Forrest in turn encouraged his friend with supportive words and messages.  Low and behold within a week Hill had his win too. With MacIntyre and Law, these two had played together and bonded when coming off the Challenge Tour a couple of years ago.

The women’s game has to be the next target

This week is the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie. Up until the weekend – déjà vu – Scotland had just the two in the field, former champion Catriona Matthew and the women’s amateur champion Louise Duncan.

At this weekend’s Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, Kelsey MacDonald came through with four solid rounds at par or better to claim one of the five qualifying spots to play at Carnoustie. On the basis of pure talent, we’d always expected Kelsey to do well at some point – comparisons with Forrest are valid – and there are clear signs of consistency in her game now.

On Monday at Panmure several more Scots were vying for one of the 15 places available there.

Aberdeen’s Gemma Dryburgh, who has a foothold on the LPGA and has been maybe the most consistent female Scot of late, was likely to get through there.

But perhaps the best news was not at Dumbarnie Links but at Fulford in Yorkshire, where Broomieknowe’s Hannah Darling won the British Girls’ Championship.

The best junior female player in Britain and Ireland

This was, it should be said, absolutely no surprise. The 18-year-old has been clearly the best junior female player in the country for some time. She won the St Rule Trophy – previous winners include Annika Sorenstam – this year. She’s the youngest member of the GB&I Curtis Cup team playing the USA at Conwy next month.

Since Hannah became the youngest-ever winner of the Scottish Girls’ at Scotscraig in 2017 it’s been clear she was something special. She won the first R&A Girls Under-16 Championship in 2019, and was actively recruited by some major US universities.

The prestigious Stanford in California, former college of Tiger Woods, made an offer. But Hannah has opted for South Carolina, where she starts after the Curtis Cup.

Hannah’s still just 18, and a lot can happen. But she’s clearly our best female prospect since Matthew, and like “Beany” could be a totem to build around.

There’s a decent crop of young women amateurs right now. And as Robert MacIntyre and the guys have proved, it just takes one of the pack to make an impression.

And to me that’s the crucial element. Developing good young golfers is an inexact science. Although we’re good now, it seems likely there will be a bit of a gap, on the men’s side at least, for a couple of years.

The best thing is to get a group of them, and let the inherent camaraderie of the Scots and the friendly peer pressure do their work.