Open debate over lack of Scottish stars

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The Independent Online

Not that many Hogmanays ago, every Open was, in effect, a Scottish Open. As the gates would open at the oldest major of all, seemingly every other competitor would be clad in tartan, a suspicion only confirmed by the fact that the high country provided 37 of the first 50 winners.

Alas, those days are now gone - and in the past they shall remain. If a Scot wants to be certain of seeing a healthy number of his home golfers they will have to turn up here, where 20 will be in attendance. But at The Open proper? They should really not bother as there will most probably be more Welsh there (and their contingent of five does not even include Ian Woosnam).

So how many Scots? Four - easily their lowest in the Championship's 146-year history. And it gets worse because only one of these - dear old Colin Montgomerie - will be there by rights on form. Sandy Lyle and Paul Lawrie will be on the Wirral by dint of the claret jugs they picked up last century and Scott Drummond due to his victory in the PGA Championship three years ago. "It's not enough," Montgomerie said yesterday.

Not nearly, especially after all the hope raised last year. It is incredible when you remember Lloyd Saltman and Eric Ramsay on the podium alongside Tiger Woods as the two best amateurs at St Andrews. These fresh-faced bravehearts were supposed to represent the rekindling of the home fires, but a quick scan down the rankings to see that Gary Orr is the next best after Montgomerie at No 149 will douse those sparks.

"I don't know if I can put a handle on what's wrong with Scottish golf," Montgomerie said. "We have good amateurs but they don't seem to be coming through as pros. Hopefully it's just a spell."

Montgomerie's bafflement is not based so much on ignorance as the pervading sense of hopelessness across the border. There have been mumblings and grumblings at the paucity of investment into youth initiatives and even that great optimist in a kilt, Sam Torrance - competing here, incidentally, in his 700th European Tour event - felt concerned enough to add a caveat to his tub-thumbing message that "don't worry, there are some great kids emerging".

"Scotland's not like America where they have it in school," the 52-year-old said. "That's why Sweden has become so strong; they have got a great base, great scholarships and great coaching."

It is an argument set to rage on, but for now Scotland must pray that this week one of their boys can win the final Open spot on offer in the beautiful surroundings here. To do so Stephen Gallagher, Alastair Forsyth and Co will have to be up there with the likes of Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Fred Couples, Retief Goosen and David Howell in one of the finest ensembles on Tour all year. At least the Scottish Open is stronger than ever.