Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mature Richie Ramsay offers Scots golf positive outlook

As the play-off in the South African Open was about to get underway at Pearl Valley on Sunday, it was difficult not to get the impression that Jamie Spence, the former European Tour player who is Sky's golfing expert alongside regular studio host David Livingstone, fancied Shiv Kapur to beat Richie Ramsay.
He described the Scot as having been "excitable and flustered" at times in his career and, if he had been totally honest, would probably have come out and said he did not think Ramsay possessed the qualities required in such a situation, as the two players found themselves going head-to-head for a first European Tour title.
In fairness, the 'old' Richie Ramsay might not have been able to grasp the opportunity to make the big breakthrough and, in doing so, bring down the curtain on the 2009 Scottish golf campaign on such a positive note.
The Aberdonian has come of age, though, and, just as happened when compatriot Martin Laird won on the US PGA Tour two months ago, his success has generated welcome optimism as we head into a new decade.
Until Sunday, Ramsay had been talked about frequently in a negative sense. He got under Padraig Harrington's skin at the Masters and Ewen Murray, Sky's main golf commentator, mentioned during the last round in South Africa that he'd witnessed an incident at the same event the previous year when the Scot had apparently screamed and shouted at people after a little girl had been hit by a stray golf ball.
Then there was a rules controversy during this year's Wales Open at Celtic Manor, where he became embroiled with John Paramor, the European Tour's chief referee, after being questioned over the way he had tested for casual water. Ramsay had led at the halfway stage in that tournament but let an opportunity slip from his grasp, with many questioning how he would react to that bitter disappointment.
The answer came at the Dunhill Links Championship in October. Ramsay arrived at that event battling to hang on to his Tour card, but his perspective on professional golf had changed as a result of him watching a television programme about soldiers who were wounded in Afghanistan. The programme, he said, had made him realise how lucky he was to be a professional sportsman and would be reminding himself that there were far worse things happening around the world as he tried to secure his playing rights for next season.
"It (the programme] showed you that going out and playing golf and shooting a bad score is not an issue. You realise how lucky you are to be out there playing and it's not the end of the world," he said.
"We are playing for a living and there's a lot of people who do a lot more dangerous or worthwhile jobs who go unmentioned. It is just because we are in the public eye. My brother is a doctor, and he does more good than I do hacking it around."
Over the next few days Ramsay 'hacked' around well enough at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews to hang on to his playing privileges, giving him that chance he grabbed with both hands in South Africa, where he came from five shots behind going into the final day but forced his way into the play-off thanks to a best-of-the-day 65.
As was the case when Laird won the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Open in Las Vegas, it was clear in the final round in South Africa that Ramsay was not fazed by finding himself at the head of the field. In fact, he was revelling in the experience. And, as the experienced Tony Johnstone observed in the TV commentary, the second shot Ramsay hit to the 601-yard 18th in the play-off was world class.
While the 25-year-old Aberdonian may have ruffled a few feathers over the years, there's no real harm in that. He's a determined individual who knows what he wants from life and that certainly doesn't mean settling for second best. What's more, he is a player who should be held up as an example to any young amateur when it comes to trying to prepare properly for a career at the highest level.
Not only did Ramsay make a wise move by going to Stirling University – he graduated with a BA Hons in Marketing and Sports Studies – he also got it right when opting to turn professional in July 2007 instead of waiting for what would have been a second Walker Cup appearance a few weeks later.
By the time he found himself playing on the Challenge Tour at he start of the following year, he'd found his way in the paid ranks and a full year on the feeder circuit, during which he enjoyed two wins, has helped propel him to 120th in the world.
If recent performances are anything to go by, this is a 'new' Richie Ramsay and, with Martin Laird also having put down his marker and David Drysdale determined to build on his best season to date by achieving a tournament win, happier days might well be lying ahead for Scottish golf.

Let's have more 'career amateurs' like Nigel Edwards

While the appointment of Nigel Edwards as the new Walker Cup captain was an easy decision, the task looks set to prove a major headache for the R&A in years to come.
Welshman Edwards will lead the Great Britain & Ireland side into battle against the Americans at Royal Aberdeen in 2011.
Like Colin Dalgleish, the man he has succeeded, Edwards is a member of that increasingly rare species known as a 'career amateur'.
While Edwards has watched his team-mates from four Walker Cup matches jump ship by turning professional, most of them straight away, he has continued to try and compete at the highest level in the amateur game while holding down a job (with the Welsh Golf Union) at the same time.
More youngsters should give that a go because in the lower reaches of the pro game the influx of players is having a suffocating effect, with the majority of them never going to climb to the top of the ladder.
Craig Watson, the 1997 Amateur champion, could be a contender the next time Scotland's turn comes around for the Walker Cup captaincy but, in the meantime, the likes of Jonathan King and Simon Mackenzie should be encouraged to dust down their clubs and get back on the 72-hole circuit next season.
Let's see more 'career amateurs' back in golf.

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