Bonnyrigg-based golfer Jamie McLeary is looking for “Muir of the same” after recording his first top-ten finish on the European Tour in 62 starts.
The 34-year-old produced his best performance on the circuit as he ended up joint-seventh behind former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel in the Tshwane Open in Pretoria at the weekend.
The excellent effort earned McLeary a cheque for £20,222, more than the Marriott Dalmahoy-attached player won in his first 19 events two years ago.
That first full season at the top table in European golf proved a big disappointment as he lost his card after finishing 152nd in the Race to Dubai.
But, having regaining it this season as a Challenge Tour graduate, McLeary is already looking better equipped since he started working with Fife-based coach Ian Muir.
The former European amateur No.1 reckons his driving has improved and, most significantly, his putting has come on leaps and bounds after finishing last season feeling more than frustrated than any other point in his career about that aspect.
“I had a two or three-hour chat with Ian about my practice habits with regards to putting and it’s made a huge difference already. Hopefully, it continues,” admitted McLeary after moving on to Fancourt for this week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour.
Sunday’s pay-day was his biggest on the European Tour, though he picked up ¤32,000 for winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore in 2009 and ¤29,425 for his runner-up finish in the 2013 Challenge Tour Grand Final.
McLeary was in the top ten from wire-to-wire at Pretoria Country Club, breaking par in all but his second round. However, he reckoned that he should have finished a lot closer to Schwartzel than 12 shots as the South African chalked up an eighth European Tour title triumph on home soil.
“I was happy with my week, but, at the same time, there’s a big part of me feels really disappointed with the shots I threw away because I could have been right up there challenging Charl,” said McLeary.
“I’m looking back at it with a ‘what if’ feeling as I dropped far too many shots during the week. I don’t feel like I’m hitting top gear yet but the putter is a lot better and, with my driving being good now, I’m really excited for what 2016 brings.”
McLeary made his first European Tour appearance as an amateur in the 2004 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond then played in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles the following season.
He made four appearances on the main circuit in 2008, two each in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before three starts in both 2012 and 2013 included the Open Championship.
The Claret Jug joust was included again in his 32 starts in 2014 but that dropped to just two last year after losing his card.
“I’m feeling a million times better about my game this time than two seasons ago,” he insisted. “I understand what I’m doing a lot more in terms of my swing. I don’t think it will go completely off the boil like it did last time.
“There’s a lot of hard work left for the rest of the season and my aim is still to get into the top 60 in the Race to Dubai. My practice habits are better, my mindset is better. I’m really happy with my team.
“I think if I keep making progress during this year then that goal of top 60 is well within reach. Hopefully, I get another chance like I gave myself in the Tshwane Open soon and I take it this time.”
Muir, who also works with Ladies European Tour player Sally Watson and is on the Scottish Golf coaching team, has certainly done his bit in helping McLeary regain a more positive outlook on the greens.
“I felt like I putted great all week in Pretoria,” he reflected. “I was surprised to see my stats weren’t as good on final day, but it’s the first time I’ve been better than average since Galgorm Castle in August last year.
“I think the improvement has come because Ian gave me some idea with regards to my practice. I’m spending more time doing little competitive games and keeping score.
“It’s a case of trying to make it more like the game environment. It makes such a difference to your score if you can roll in middle-distance putts and not miss ones inside six feet.
“I would have made every cut this year and been contending twice if I had been putting average. Not great but just the average standard of a Tour golfer.
“It’s great to see them dropping and it makes you feel better about being competitive. It’s great for your confidence.”