Golf: Lloyd Saltman hopes it won’t be grim up north

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LLOYD SALTMAN is hoping a trip to Cairngorm country can help him climb back on to the European Tour.

The 26-year-old tees up tomorrow in the opening round of the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.

Big brother Elliot is also in the field, as are a clutch of other Lothians-based professionals, including John Gallagher and Mark Kerr.

The event is one of the biggest on the Challenge Tour and it’s a chance for Saltman to kick-start his season.

Since losing his main Tour card at the end of last year, the Archerfield Links ace has found himself in a quandary at times.

On the one hand, he has grabbed a handful of opportunities on the European Tour in the hope he can land the win that would instantly get him a seat back at the top table.

And he was in contention at the halfway stage of the Nordea Masters in Sweden a fortnight ago before finishing 22nd behind Lee Westwood.

But, on the other, he knows that a more realistic way to get his card back is by finishing in the top 20 on the Challenge Tour money-list.

“I’ve got category 12 this year which has got me into a few European Tour events,” said Saltman, the 2005 Silver Medal winner in the 2005 Open at St Andrews.

“The aim is to get back on the European Tour as soon as possible and I think the most likely way is to finish in the top 20 in the Challenge Tour rankings.

“Keeping my card last year was always going to be tough with only a Qualifying School category. I didn’t quite manage it [finishing 133rd in the Race to Dubai], although I had my chances, but I’ve learned from the experience and will bounce back.”

Saltman, who played on the same Walker Cup team as Rory McIlroy at Royal County Down in 2007, added: “It’s a big fortnight for the Challenge Tour because of last week in Saint Omer [the Saint-Omer Open] and this week at the Scottish Hydro Challenge. Both carry large prize funds and it’s important to do well.”

Two years ago, Saltman finished 11th in this event at Spey Valley, where he also played earlier this year in an Optical Express 36-hole tournament on the Tartan Tour.

“The Scottish Hydro Challenge is a great event at a superb venue so I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

“I played in an Optical Express event there a couple of months ago and the course looked in great shape.

“It’s in excellent condition, and will no doubt be a very good test for the Challenge Tour guys. It’s always nice to play on home soil as well. It’s nice to have family and friends up there watching. I really like the course and it’s one I’ve played well on in the past.”

Elliot, who also lost his main Tour card at the end of last year, has received an invite this week along with Gallagher, now attached to Turnhouse, and Marriott Dalmahoy man Kerr as well as Dunbar’s Neil Fenwick.

Lothians-based Jamie McLeary will be bidding to repeat his victory at the same venue in 2009, while Raymond Russell is also in a field that contains no less than 26 Scots.

The event, which carries a total prize fund of around £175,000, has produced two home winners in the past three years.

Fifer George Murray succeeded McLeary in 2010 before Frenchman Edouard Dubois led the field home on the banks of the River Spey 12 months ago.