• Walker Cup on the minds of some players
• "Exciting group of players" says Paulding
SGU TRAINING | SOUTH AFRICA
Craig Ross hopes to use his first experience of competitive winter performance training in South Africa to boost his Walker Cup hopes for this year, as an exciting young nine-player Scottish Golf Union squad headed off to the Rainbow Nation yesterday.
Thanks to the continued support of national team sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management, South African businessman Johann Rupert and the Alfred Dunhill Links Foundation, coupled with funding from sportscotland, the youthful group, featuring five teenagers, will travel to South Africa for competition and training to mirror previous programmes.
Their schedule will include four major events on the South African circuit, the annual Test Match against the host nation and a triangular match against the South African Golf Development Board and the South African Golf Association, as well as a training camp to allow players to work on short game, swing and general fitness with support staff.
The squad will also work with the South African Golf Development Board, who help children from underprivileged areas into golf, with the SGU intending to send surplus clothing to South Africa for their use.
Twelve months ago the performance programme proved hugely beneficial to Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil who credited his efforts in South Africa, including a tie for second at the Amateur Stroke Play, as a reason for going on to enjoy a successful season, including his Amateur Championship victory at Royal Portrush.
With Neil, who has just turned 19, preparing to travel to the US later this month for practice and a run of events in the lead up to his invite to The Masters at Augusta National in April, his fellow Scots will seek to shine in South Africa.
"It’s a Walker Cup year now, so I’m going to try for that" - Craig Ross
Kirkhill’s Ross is one of them, with the 21-year-old looking to build on his own impressive season in 2014. The Lanarkshire player outshone the professionals to win the PGA EuroPro Tour’s Glenfarclas Open at Mar Hall, as well as securing his full Home Internationals bow, winning five-and-a-half points from six at Southerndown.
Ross, who hopes to build on his work with the SGU in the Middle East late last year, said: “It’s my first time going out to South Africa and it would be awesome to win one of them, but I’m looking to post some good results overall, really, and come back ready for the start of the season here.
“I think winning on the EuroPro gave me more confidence. It’s a Walker Cup year now, so I’m going to try for that. I’ve got a schedule for the year and some good results in South Africa will help definitely towards it. I’ve got goals to make certain teams this year, so we will see what happens.
“I’ve been busy this winter playing, practicing and training. I’m now looking forward to getting out to South Africa to play in tournaments, as I feel like I’m hitting the ball well.”
Five players from last year’s South Africa programme make the return journey, including Ewen Ferguson, twice a national champion in 2014, with Ross, Greig Marchbank, Calum Fyfe and Murray Naysmith – the latter two first and second on last season’s Scottish Hydro Boys Order of Merit – included for the first time.
The winter training programme in South Africa follows the great success of past trips, with Scots regularly returning with silverware, including Michael Stewart, David Law and Brian Soutar.
This year, the players begin their competitive action at the Gauteng North Stroke Play on 23 January, before the South African Amateur Stroke Play commences on 3 February. A Test Match between the hosts and the visiting nation takes place from 18 – 19 February, before the Sanlam South African Amateur follows at the start of March. The Scots finish their programme at the Northern Amateur from 8 March.
Steve Paulding, Scottish Golf Performance Manager, added: “Returning to South Africa provides valuable experience for our players, especially the younger ones, on and off the course. It also gives them competitive opportunities at this time of year ahead of the new domestic season.
“We have an exciting group of players in 2015 with a number of them looking to challenge for a Walker Cup place in September at Royal Lytham. We are hugely grateful to all our supporters who effectively fund this whole trip.”
Meanwhile, Calum Hill and Euan Walker will fly the saltire flag when they compete in the South American Amateur Championship in Peru later this month, seeking to deny England a hat-trick of victories.
Hill from Tantallon and Kilmarnock Barassie’s Walker will tee up at Lima Golf from 22 – 25 January, competing over 72 holes of stroke play for the championship and the Arturo Calle Cup. The pair are currently based at colleges in the US and will head for Peru with the support of the SGU and the R&A.
South Africa competition calendar:
· 23 – 25 January: Gauteng North Stroke Play, Pretoria Country Club
· 3 – 6 February: South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship, Port Elizabeth
· 18 – 19 February: South Africa vs. Scotland Test Match, Leopard Creek
· 1 – 6 March: Sanlam South African Amateur Championship, Silver Lakes
· 8 – 13 March: Northern Amateur, Randpark
SGU Squad for South Africa (home club & age in brackets):
· Ewen Ferguson (Bearsden, 18)
· Calum Fyfe (Cawder, 17)
· Scott Gibson (Southerness, 22)
· Ben Kinsley (St Andrews, 18)
· Greig Marchbank (Thornhill, 20)
· Murray Naysmith (Marriott Dalmahoy, 17)
· Craig Ross (Kirkhill, 21)
· Connor Syme (Dumfries & County, 19)
· Daniel Young (Craigie Hill, 23)