Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Odds stacked against Laird and Ramsay stepping into the Ryder Cup breach

Just in case any reminding is needed, 2010 is a Ryder Cup year and in the run-up to Celtic Manor, Wales, in October, the biennial beanfeast will loom large at every tournament played on the European and PGA tours.

But what chance a Scot making it into Colin Montgomerie’s 12-man European side?

As Scotland’s stock in the professional golfing world has fallen alarmingly in recent years, not one of our tartan troops made it into Nick Faldo’s team that was defeated at Valhalla, Kentucky, in 2008. It was the first time in the modern era that even a single Scot had failed to make the grade and the chances are it will be the same story this time, even though a bright new horizon is beckoning for Scottish fortunes on the men’s tours after a spell in the doldrums.

The Saltire is being flown proudly by Martin Laird and Richie Ramsay, two players whose stars are very much on the rise after victories on the PGA Tour and European Tour respectively late last year, and new Scottish standard-bearers are chronically needed to replace Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie, our top guns over the last three decades.

Can Laird and Ramsay step into the breach? Of course they can, but from their current positions the odds are stacked heavily against them.

Both have declared an ambition to make this year’s side. The Arizona-based Laird has even belatedly joined the European Tour as an affiliate member to make himself eligible just in case he bursts into the big time this season, starting this week in the SBS Championship in Hawaii. But both are realistic enough to recognise that their Ryder Cup 2010 debuts may be further in the future.

Montgomerie has already made it clear that players in his side in all probability will have to be well inside the world’s top 50 to be considered and there are sound reasons for that. These are the players assured of starts in every world and major championship, the tournaments where the pressure is most comparable with the Ryder Cup, where players will earn most points and have the chance to show their resilience.

Others could still join them at St Andrews through other qualifying avenues, but the tartan army at the home of golf in July is unlikely to be anywhere near as strong as the last time the Open was there in 2005 when 10 Scots were in the field. Six played all four rounds, Montgomerie was runner-up, Lloyd Saltman was joint 15th, Scott Drummond and Eric Ramsay joint 23rd, Lyle joint 32nd and Lawrie joint 52nd.

Curiously, the rise of both Laird and Ramsay is connected with American influences. Laird exited Scotland as a youth to attend the University of Colorado and remained in the US, playing his way through the collegiate scene and then on to the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour.

Ramsay had much stronger links to home as a product of the Scottish Golf Union before forging a link, as the US amateur champion, with the Golf Club of Georgia without which, he feels, his short game would never have been sharp enough to mount the winner’s podium.

He also reckons the positive “can-do” attitude of Americans helped him against what he perceives as an all-pervading Scottish negativity that includes, perhaps, columns like this pointing out a couple of weeks ago that while the tee-to-green play of the European Tour Scots is among the best, the putting stats are grim.

The Scot is not only captaining the side but also playing. Having tumbled to world No.255, he is hardly there on current form, but you can’t accuse the eight-time Ryder Cup 2010 player, unbeaten in singles in that time, of being short on experience.

As the SGU and the Professional Golfers’ Association in Scotland continue to ponder the dearth of top young players making the transition to successful tournament professionals, the answer may indeed lie in establishing a base in a warmer climate and recruiting a wide range of positive-thinking mentors that was the recommendation in the challenging No Limits report by Winning Scotland Foundation almost a year ago.

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