It was somewhat appropriate in this week of major decision-making and ‘Deadline Day’ drama that Scottish international Ewen Ferguson decided to make the switch from the amateur ranks to the professional realm of the game.
In truth, it wasn’t a particularly surprising move. The Bearsden 20-year-old had been heavily tipped to make the leap at some point before the end of the year off the back of a superb 2015 season.
"He straddles the line between confident and arrogant very well"
I wish him all the very best. I first met Ewen a couple of years ago at his home club in the wake of his British Boys’ victory and he’s a great lad.
He straddles the line between confident and arrogant very well, no mean feat considering the amount of attention and sometimes over-the-top adulation he has already been exposed to. He’s also well mannered and even-tempered – traits that will stand him in good stead on and off the course.
However, if he wants an example of how tough a task he faces in making it to the top of the game – where all the most luxurious trappings of success are to be found – then he got it yesterday in his first round as a pro.
He shot a five-over 75 in the Cordon Golf Open, a French event on the Challenge Tour. After just 18 holes, he was already 12 shots off the pace of the leader, England’s Jordan Smith. Talk about a rude awakening.
The thing about the Challenge Tour is that it is a seriously, seriously strong circuit. Golf’s expansion into new territories over the last few decades has made the pool of talent deeper and better than it has ever been.
Where once players could turn pro off four or five, now you need to be plus-something to stand any kind of a chance. Even then, there is no guarantee of success. Just ask Keir McNicoll. The Carnoustie man was the first player in Scotland to reach a plus-six handicap almost a decade ago. Even for somebody as good as he was, a career on the tour just didn’t work out.
Much (arguably too much) has been made of the lack of young Scottish talent on the European Tour. Currently, nobody from the home of golf under the age of 30 has a full card. The hope is that guys like Ferguson might plug that gap. But why should we expect them to? Because they’ve played in the Walker Cup? Because they’re Scottish?
For what it’s worth, my advice to Ferguson would be to take a different path: go to the America. Learn your craft on the mini tours in the USA. The likes of the Swing Thought Tour, Gateway Tour and so on.
"Escape the limelight, the scrutiny, the rotten weather"
Escape the limelight, the scrutiny, the rotten weather and the ‘good things you hear’ about the MENA Tour and Alps Tour. Learn your trade and work your way up the ranks in the toughest proving ground of all: the US.
I fully expect some Scots pros would turn their nose up at this suggestion. But know this: the No.1 Scot on the world rankings right now is Russell Knox.
Only 19 players in the world are currently better than him. Where did his professional career begin? On the Swing Thought Tour, or the NGA Hooters Tour as it was then. The Invernesian played on that circuit between 2008 and 2010, winning twice in the process. He’s done alright for himself, wouldn’t you say?
Martin Laird (above) and Scott Jamieson also played on American satellite tours early in their pro careers. Laird is now a three-time PGA Tour winner, whilst Jamieson is an established winner on the European Tour.
"I’m not for a second suggesting that every golfer who heads Stateside will be a success"
Then there’s Jimmy Gunn (below). The Dornoch man moved to the US in 2007 to pursue his ambition of becoming a top tour pro and, this year, he has made over $72,000 on the Web.com Tour – the feeder circuit to the PGA Tour.
I’m not for a second suggesting that every golfer who heads Stateside will be a success but perhaps Scottish golf’s much vaunted ‘am to pro’ problem can, in part, be explained by too many young players following the example of others who have failed but with the expectation of different results. Einstein had a word for that…
It would be great to see Ferguson make it straight onto the European Tour at the first attempt but that has never been harder to do than it is now – and it gets harder every year.
Going to the US might be viewed as a long road for a short-cut but, surely, it’s not when or how you get there – just that you do, eventually, get there.
As I say, I wish Ewen all the very best of luck. I’d just urge him not to be afraid to try something different in order to fulfil both his dreams and his undoubted potential.
After blowing his final round lead at The Barclays last weekend, Rickie Fowler is now 0-5 for converting a 54-hole advantage into a win on the PGA Tour. Not particularly great. Still, if he can keep that sort of form up, it augurs well for his Champions Tour career where three-round events are the norm. Just over 22 years to go, Rick!
This week, I have been… delighted to hear that Rory McIlroy has teamed-up with putting coach Phil Kenyon. It’s no secret that his performance on the greens has been the weakest area of the Northern Irishman’s game for the most part of his professional career.
When he goes on a hot streak, he’s the best player in the world – but the stats this year don’t make for pleasant reading. Whilst he ranks first in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and second in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green on the PGA Tour this season, he is 130th in Strokes Gained: Putting. You don’t need to be a genius to see where the problem lies.
"If anyone can get McIlroy rolling the rock with greater consistency, it’s him"
The genius, instead, lies in finding the appropriate solution – and few are so well suited and experienced in doing so as Kenyon. The English putting guru has worked with several of the world’s top players in recent years, including Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer.
If anyone can get McIlroy rolling the rock with greater consistency, it’s him. And if he does, prepare to see McIlroy complete the career grand slam at Augusta next April.
Read more -> Rory McIlroy 'inundated' with new clubs
I saw a terrific stat yesterday from the Golf Channel’s resident stats man Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC – follow him if you don’t already). He pointed out that, if US Ryder Cup points were calculated in 2016 alone, Zach Johnson would have ranked outside the top 20.
Instead, because qualification started in March 2015, fully 18 months out from the event, he took the eighth and last automatic place on Davis Love III’s team. A large chunk of those points came from his Open victory at St Andrews in July 2015.
Since then, he has managed just seven top tens on the PGA and is currently the 13th highest American on the world rankings in 24th place. Task Force – assemble!
And finally… Vijay Singh is, according to his lawyer, ready to take the PGA Tour to court over its handling of his ‘doping’ case. Good on him.
In 2013, Singh was given a three-month ban by the tour for admitting in an interview to taking a deer antler spray, which was, at the time on the tour’s banned substance list.
Read more -> Vijay Singh hits out at the PGA Tour
Here’s the thing, though. Singh never failed a drug test and, after the intervention of the World Anti-Doping Association, the spray was removed from the banned substance list on account of the fact that it contained insufficient quantities of the human growth hormone IGF-1 to have any performance-enhancing capabilities.
"The PGA Tour treated him terribly and, for that, it ought to be punished"
Look, Vijay is no angel but, in this instance, the PGA Tour treated him terribly and, for that, it ought to be punished. Who knows, maybe the public shame of a court case actioned against it by a former world No.1 and multiple major winner might just be the kick up the backside the tour needs to make its anti-doping measures much more robust.
Michael McEwan / The Cut Line
Log-on every Friday morning to read The Cut Line, a weekly blog by bunkered’s Michael McEwan.