Grant Forrest is confident he’s picked the right time to turn professional – and is hoping to prove it when he joins a star-studded field in this week’s £4 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The Craigielaw star had intended to call time on his glittering amateur career after helping Great Britain & Ireland record a thumping triumph in the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham just more than a year ago. But he delayed the switch after failing to get past the first stage in the European Tour Qualifying School and reckons he was right to do so, especially after gaining some valuable experience playing as an amateur on the Challenge Tour this season.
“The plan was to turn pro after the Walker Cup last year, but I just struggled with my game a little bit towards the second half of the season,” admitted Forrest during a visit to media centre at St Andrews, which shares the staging of this week’s pro-am event with fellow recent pro recruit Ewen Ferguson.
“You have to turn pro when you’re playing well, so there was no point doing that last year, and Scottish Golf put together a great schedule for me this year with Challenge Tour events and amateur events. It’s been great.
“My game’s felt better and I feel like I’m in a much better place now than I was last year.”
The 23-year-old has been paired with Brett Desmond, the son of Dermot, Celtic’s majority shareholder, in the pro-am, heading to Carnoustie today for the opening round before tackling Kingsbarns tomorrow then St Andrews on Saturday. The final round, involving the top 60 and ties, takes place on the Old Course on Sunday.
“I’m really excited to get the week going,” added Forrest, who has his close friend and former Scottish Boys’ team-mate Calum Stewart caddying for him. “I’m very grateful to the Dunhill Championship committee for giving me an invitation and just can’t wait to get going and enjoy the week.
“The biggest thing for me is just enjoy it. It’s a great event and I think that having all the amateurs involved creates a great atmosphere everywhere. The players seem to be really relaxed.”
Forrest is certainly relaxed about playing at Carnoustie, having reached the final in the Amateur Championship last year, having won the Links Trophy on the Old Course at St Andrews in 2014 “I think any course you’ve had success on, that’s going to stay with you whenever you come back,” he said. “It’s great coming back here (St Andrews) and Carnoustie, and having good memories helps.
“We played the Old Course every year in the links trophy and obviously played Carnoustie quite a bit last year in the Amateur Championship. So it really helps that they are all courses we are familiar with. It definitely helps ease you into it.”
Nine years ago, Rory McIlroy was the rookie pro playing in this event, finishing third to help secure his European Tour card for the following season and the rest, as they say, is history.
“It’s a big prize fund this week,” acknowledged Forrest. “But I think that you have to keep that in the back of your head as much as you can. Just going to have to enjoy it and just try and play your best, and come the end of the week, we’ll see where it leaves us.
“I’ve played in quite a few pro events (including the 2013 Open at Muirfield) now. At first, you get a bit stars-truck when you see some of the big names. But you get used to it and just keep your head down and stick to your own game plan.”
That’s exactly the advice being offered to both Forrest and Ferguson by Stephen Gallacher as they set out in an event he won in 2004 before going on to become a Ryder Cup player.
“I’m sure the boys will enjoy this week and all they need to do is just not change too much and just get experience. The more they can play in these type of events, the more they get used to it, and I’m sure that their games are great enough anyway.
“Whatever they do at school (both are through to the second stage in the European Tour Qualifying School in Spain next month) or if it’s the Challenge Tour next year, they will come back here and this will be beneficial to them.
“The young guys coming out now are more suited to turning pro. Getting a chance to play on the Challenge Tour is massive for the kids getting ready to go.”