Wednesday, June 20, 2012



James Byrne and Michael Stewart will return to their native Scotland as professionals at this week’s Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, nine months after earning local hero status as amateurs at the 2011 Walker Cup.
The duo were part of the Great Britain and Ireland team which enthralled the people of Scotland, and beyond, by beating the USA against all the odds to claim a first Walker Cup victory in eight years at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club last September.Having both turned professional in the aftermath, Byrne and Stewart are two of a host of promising young Scots in the field at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club this week, all harbouring hopes of sealing a high finish that could kick-start their budding professional careers on the European Challenge Tour.
“Obviously it’s a home event so I want to play well,” said 22 year old Stewart. “That’s just pressure that I put on myself though. I just want to get going so I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s starting to feel like a good result is closer after a slow start to my professional career on the satellite tours. I played in Brittany on the Challenge Tour recently too and missed the cut there.
“Spey Valley is a good course, challenging in places, but if you hit it well you’ll have chances to make birdies. There are holes that suit my eye and holes that I’ll have to play smarter.
“It would be nice to get my first good finish as a pro and that’s all it takes - just one good score - and then I can kick on from there.”
Stewart’s friend Byrne has earned a little more experience on The European Tour as well as the Asian Tour and he is hoping to make that count as he tries to make an impression on the Challenge Tour.
“I played this tournament in 2008 as an amateur and was actually leading in the first round so if I could do that four years ago I should be able to do it now,” said Byrne, a 23 year old from Banchory.
“It’s one of the best tournaments on the Challenge Tour circuit and if you look at the past winners, they’ve all been really good players so I’m looking forward to it.
“Being Scottish helps and I’ll have some family coming up so that’ll be enjoyable. Making the step up from the amateur game to the professional game is not easy. There’s a wealth of really good players and the depth of quality is much better, so it’s been tough but I’m enjoying it.
“I had some experience from my amateur career of big tournaments so I’m used to crowds and, if anything, I really enjoy playing on the big stage. Hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to get on to The European Tour
“If I can get a top 10 here and build a few tournaments into my schedule, then hopefully I can climb the Challenge Tour Rankings but we’ll see what happens.”
There are a host of Scots in the field at Aviemore this week with the five members of Team Scottish Hydro – Chris Doak, Jack Doherty, Callum Macaulay, Andrew McArthur and Jamie McLeary – all present alongside brothers Elliot and Lloyd Saltman.
Former BMW PGA Championship winner Scott Drummond and Wallace Booth, whose sister Carly won the Ladies Scottish Open on the Ladies European Tour earlier this year, are also in attendance.
Gary Lockerbie, who sits at the summit of the Challenge Tour Rankings, will be hoping to consolidate his lead at the €220,000 event, while former champions Robert Dinwiddie (2007) and Sam Walker (2006) are joined by English compatriot and three time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty.
Other former European Tour winners in the field include Ross McGowan and John Parry of England and Australian Scott Strange,
Peter Uihlein, who played against Byrne and Stewart for the USA team in last year’s Walker Cup, is also in the field.



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