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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Gemma Dryburgh’s success should be a inspiration to build Scottish women’s golf

Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland took her maiden LPGA win in Japan on Sunday.
Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland took her maiden LPGA win in Japan on Sunday.

It’s been another outstanding year for Scottish professional golf.

Four wins on the DP World Tour this year surpassed the excellent 2021. Two from Ewen Ferguson, a fourth career win for Richie Ramsay, and a first class win in a top order field for Robert MacIntyre.

But Gemma Dryburgh’s victory in the Toto Japan Classic at the weekend might be the year’s crowning achievement.

A steady progression

The 29-year-old from Aberdeen doesn’t have the profile of the male winners. Her four full years on the LPGA haven’t been flush with success. There’s been a steady progression but she was still just inside the world’s top 200 before this weekend.

At the Women’s Open at Muirfield in August, Gemma was happy to have made the cut in that major for the first time.

That’s partly because her game is more US-condition friendly from her years at Tulane University in New Orleans.

But she’d won just $435,000 in four and a bit years on the LPGA. Her best previous finish on tour was a quarter-final in the matchplay event in Las Vegas in May. In strokeplay it was a tie for sixth from 2020.

She had to go back to Q School last year to get her playing rights for 2022. But there definitely have been signs this year that Gemma was on the cusp of something.

The consistency that was lacking in previous years, for a start. Perhaps the confidence of belonging – she had candidly admitted feeling out of her depth on the LPGA when she first played there.

In one week, a huge leap

She was 78th on the LPGA’s points list coming into Japan. It was the penultimate event before the final 60 are set for play in the season finale, the $7 million CME Group Tour Championship in Florida.

Two weekend 65s lifted her to a four-shot victory and the $300,000 first prize. In one leap, she went to 41st in the standings, booking her place for the first time in the Tour Championship.

It’s the first Scottish victory on the LPGA for 11 years, since Catriona Matthew’s last in Mexico. Dundee’s Kathryn Imrie and Windyhill’s Janice Moodie are the only other Scots to win on the LPGA.

It’s far too few. And really Gemma has been the only Scot playing regularly on the LPGA since Matthew’s career started to wind down.

There are many reasons for this, the most pertinent being that there’s still a chronically small percentage of women playing the game in this country.

There’s some hope coming. Louise Duncan, the former Women’s Amateur champion who played so well as successive Women’s Opens, is bidding for her LPGA card later this year.

Hannah Darling, an outstanding player at all levels coming up, is probably not too far away from the pro ranks either. She’s in her second year at The University of South Carolina.

There’s great work being done

There’s one or two gems in the junior amateur ranks, and there’s plenty of great work being done at places like Carnoustie and North Berwick. Kathryn Imrie, after several years based in the US, has come home to lead Scottish Golf’s programme, which was an excellent move by the governing body.

But there’s a lot of catching up to do. The numbers of quality female golfers in Scotland are tiny compared to Spain, or even Ireland now.

There were 12 Spaniards who qualified for the matchplay stages (and 20 entrants) at the Girls Championship at Carnoustie, Panmure and Monifieth this year. Only one Scots girl, 15-year-old Grace Crawford, qualified.

Gemma’s success should be a big shot in the arm and an inspiration, hopefully. But we still need to do the hard work on the ground to encourage more girls to take up a game that should really be an ideal leisure pursuit for them.

The rule changes that we need

The R&A and USGA announced further tweaks to the Rules of Golf on Monday. These were not the ones we really wanted, just an update of the continuing “simplification” of the rulebook.

I say we don’t want them, but we do. They’re all worthy enough. The governing bodies have made things easier for golfers with disabilities. They want club members to use apps to record scores more often. That all makes sense.

You’ll now be able to replace a club that’s damaged in action by “natural causes” – ie not in a temper tantrum. We should still get to see plenty pros putting with their wedges after fits of pique.

But there is still the distance question. But for a few local rules delicately posted by the governing bodies, there seems to be no hard and fast regulations to control excessive ball flight at the elite level.

The freaks become the future

I was listening to one of the consistent advocates for action, the former pro now course designer from Australia, Mike Clayton, on a podcast last week.

Mike is actually doing some work in this area with his design partnership, making alterations to the courses at Monifieth Links.

He made a really good point about golf history, saying that in golf, “the freaks become the future”. Basically, those players considered outliers when they first appear eventually are swallowed up by those coming through after them.

It makes perfect sense. Golf is one of the biggest copycat sports there is, with what works for some replicated – or at least tried – by everyone else.

Bryson DeChambeau is not a freak, suggested Mike. He’s what the future looks like. Every kid who has seen him will be trying to do the same as he does.

And many will succeed, and inevitably some will pass him. It’s going to be normal for a half-wedge to suffice hitting into what’s now a mid-range par five.

At the elite end of the game, if we’re not to see our great and historic courses made obsolete – not just marginalised from the original intention of their design – we need to do something. Quickly.