What is required from Scotland’s top amateurs is changing, says Performance Manager Steve Paulding
SCOTTISH GOLF Performance Manager Steve Paulding has issued a straightforward and uncompromising rallying cry to the players in the SGU National Squads this year: shape up or ship out.
Speaking exclusively to Scottish Club Golfer, Paulding revealed that any of the players in the squads who do not meet the standards laid out for them will be removed from the set-up as part of the SGU’s new ‘tough love’ approach to nurturing the next generation of Scottish talent.
The new stance follows a comprehensive overhaul of the squad structure on the back of a broadly disappointing 2012 campaign. Not even a first victory in the Home Internationals since 2006 could paper over the cracks of a year which ended without a Scottish golfer in the top 100 of the men’s World Amateur Golf Rankings and in which the team representing the home of golf finished in a lowly tie for 44th in the World Amateur Team Championship, having won the title just four years earlier.
Whilst others might excuse last year as an aberration caused principally by a loss of many of the country’s top amateurs to the professional ranks at the end of 2011, Paulding is making no apologies for his change of approach.
“We’ve got an expanded squad this year to give quite a group of players a chance to show us what they’ve got to offer but we’re going to be fairly ruthless in terms of choosing who we continue to give ongoing support to and who we keep in the squads going forward,” he told Scottish Club Golfer.
“We’re going to track individual improvements more closely using the players’ results and performance statistics from Golf Datalab and what I need to see is an underlying trend in a player’s ability across the key elements. Their short games, their putts, their accuracy off the tee and so on. It’s important to see if they are improving or not because, if they aren’t, then they’re not going to get to where we need them to be.
“In short, we’re pushing the players harder this year and saying to them, ‘If you want access to everything that we can provide you with, then you need to be putting in 110% all the time.”
Tracking the improvements made by the players in Paulding’s squads is no small undertaking but, thanks to the sportscotland institute of sport, his team has been boosted considerably to help with this monitoring.
He revealed: “The sportscotland Institute of Sport has just about given me the equivalent of three full-time members of staff to work with me and my coaching team, so we’ve now got two sports psychologists, a full-time strength and conditioning expert, and a full-time physio.
“They are now working full-time to support our squads and teams to build their expertise, build their knowledge, improve their training and so on.
“As a result, we’re able to assess the players in our squads much more closely than ever before. We’re bringing all of the key people together to review every player every month.
“We review their attendance at the gym, we review their attendance with special support services, we look at how their physical measures and flexibility are improving, we look at their performance stats, we sit down with the coaches and look at video footage of them, we analyse their results in competitions and so on.
“Our analysis is now so much more in-depth and if people aren’t seen to be improving, pulling their weight or doing what they are being asked to do, then we can’t support them. We want to support people but in order to do that, we have to challenge them.
“What our players in our squads need to understand is that, if they are not prepared to knuckle down, work hard and give those extra few percentage points in everything they do, then there are plenty of players behind them who will gladly take their
place. We want players who will fight to get in our squads and then, just as equally, fight to stay there. That’s something that probably hasn’t been the culture in golf up to now. We need to make people proud to be in our squads and aware that, as soon as they let their guard down, somebody will take their place from them.”
No-one can argue that the SGU isn’t giving its players every chance to succeed. As well as warm-weather training and access to a larger, more dedicated team of performance staff, they are also being given the opportunity to work with a diverse pool of external support. Several Scottish professionals, including Andrew Coltart, Stephen Gallacher and Colin Montgomerie, have given back some of their time over the past few seasons to work with the squads and it is hoped that this will continue this season. However, other sources, such as Steve Black - mentor to England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson - have also been invited to speak to the players to help condition them for the challenges they will face.
“We are trying to bring lots of people in to give either very golf-focussed talks or very motivational talks,” explained Paulding. “Players need to understand how their attitude is so important a part of being a success and the people delivering those messages don’t necessarily need to be from a golf background. It’s about giving our players a different perspective and an idea of what it takes to make it to the top.”
With a robust set-up in place, Paulding is optimistic about what 2013 could hold in store for Scotland’s amateur golfers.
“Going back a couple of years, we had four players inside the top 50 in the world,” says Paulding.
“Last year, we didn’t really have one player in the top 100. So, my aim this year is to get at least one, if not two, players up into the top 50, move other players up into the top 100, and then, as always, we’ll be targetting the key competitions this year. We’d be expecting to be in the top five in the European Men’s Team Championship, have somebody up in the top ten of the European Men’s Amateur Championship, and then we’ve got the key events - the Brabazon, Lytham, Irish, Welsh, British and so on - where we’re aiming to get somebody up there competing at the business end of those championships.
“We’ve got all of the key events in the calendar and the players in the squad will be preparing to try and get into the winning zones.”
Paulding’s vision is also about far more than just preparing the players to turn professional. He is keen to develop the next generation of Scottish stars from the junior ranks upwards.
He said: “Beginning this year, we are attempting to support our younger golfers more so we’re trying to put in more education and support to our boys squad whilst also tailoring our programmes to give everyone the chance to develop and progress in our squads based upon their own personal circumstances.”
This, it is hoped, will result in more rounded, more prepared golfers for the men’s squad and, hopefully, in time a bigger pool of talent capable of competing at the top end of the professional ranks. Of course, the success of this depends on one thing: how each individual player rises to the challenge that has been thrown down to them this year.
“Everyone is motivated to do the best they can,” concluded Paulding. “Nobody in the squads is freeloading. However, everybody has a different idea of what hard work is. That’s something we want to address. No matter how you think are working, you can always work harder or smarter.”