Golf: Lloyd and Elliot Saltman face test after tough 2011

Elliot Saltman
Elliot Saltman
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THEY say you sometimes need to take a backwards step to move forward and that is certainly the case as far as the Saltman brothers – Elliot and Lloyd – are concerned heading into the New Year.

Twelve months ago, the Archerfield Links aces were riding high, having earned a place in the record books after becoming the first siblings to have graduated from the European Tour Qualifying School.

Lloyd Saltman

Lloyd Saltman

Admittedly, Elliot had a dark cloud hanging over his head as he prepared for a disciplinary hearing after being accused of wrongly replacing his ball in a Challenge Tour event in Russia. But it was an exciting time for the two brothers as they took their place at the top table in European golf and attempted to earn large slices of the huge prize pot up for grabs.

Alas, neither managed to earn enough to retain their Tour cards and then didn’t pass the Qualifying School examination in Girona this time around.

So where does it leave the Saltmans heading into 2012?

In Lloyd’s case, he now has Category 12 membership, having finished between 118th and 150th in the Race to Dubai. It means he’ll still secure some starts on the European Tour next season, though they are likely to be few and far between when it comes to the big-money events.

For instance, he’ll have little or no chance of getting into the three events on the Middle East Swing – in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai – early on.

It will be the same in the height of the summer, though it would be nice to think he will be afforded one of the invites for the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. As for other invites, they could be difficult to come by as Lloyd has still to earn his stripes in the professional game.

Yes, he had a glittering amateur career that included a Silver Medal win in The Open in 2005 and Walker Cup appearances alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy and Richie Ramsay. But amateur achievements go out of the window as soon as you make that switch to the paid ranks and you’ve got to start all over again.

A year ago, Marc Warren and Alastair Forsyth were both in the position that Lloyd finds himself at the moment.

The difference with them, however, is that they’d both won on the European Tour – twice each in fact – and their pleas for invites carried a bit of clout. The problem for Lloyd is that he’s in the same boat as an awful lot of players who did well as amateurs but are struggling to secure a foothold in the pro game.

He was naturally disappointed to finish 133rd on the money-list this year but, at the same time, it’s not the end of the world. Plenty of players have had to take a step back over the years and actually discovered it’s the best thing that has happened to them.

He’s entered the first event of 2012, this week’s Africa Open in East London, and a good performance there could prove the springboard to a quick return to the top circuit.

According to Colin Brooks, who has coached the 26-year-old for more than a decade now, it won’t take much for Lloyd to kick-start his career again.

He pointed, for instance, to the fact his man had made 17 cuts in 2011, an improvement on his Challenge Tour statistics the previous season.

“He’ll be sitting down and taking the positives from the year and I still think he has made some big strides,” said Braid Hills-based Brooks.

Lloyd is certainly big off the tee and finished fourth in driving distance, his average of 306.9 yards only being outgunned by Alvaro Quiros, Pelle Edberg and Daniel Vancsik. But he was 114th with a stroke average of 71.57 and 117th for hitting greens in regulation.

“Lloyd is a big hitter so is going to make a lot of birdies. He’s a good striker of the ball and also a good putter,” added Brooks.

“What has been letting him down is that he’s not been able to recover well. He doesn’t do what Luke Donald has managed to do, for example.”

That’s something Lloyd will be working on as he prepares to tee off his 2012 campaign in Africa after a short break between one season ending and a new one starting.

The Joburg Open is the week after the Africa Open and he might also get into that, but then it could be a while before he gets another chance on the European Tour. The Avantha Masters in India the week after the Dubai Desert Classic is a possibility, though an earlier trip to India could also be on the cards for a Challenge Tour event there at the end of January.

The second-tier Challenge Tour is certainly where Elliot is likely to be spending most of his season after he finished just outside the top 200 in the Race to Dubai. He actually got his year off to a promising start, picking up a cheque for around £10,000 after tying for 23rd in the Africa Open. But the 29-year-old only made a handful of cuts thereafter in a year when he made three holes-in-one – two of them coming in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor.

Add in the three-month ban he was hit with over the aforementioned ball-marking storm and it certainly proved an eventful rookie year him. Now a Category 16 member, Elliot will struggle to secure many starts on the main Tour next year and so is effectively back to where he found himself two seasons ago.

Again, though, that isn’t the end of the world and, with another year on the Challenge Tour under his belt, he’ll be better equipped if he can climb back up the ladder again.

For one reason or another, 2011 will not exactly go down as a golden year for the Saltmans, but for both of them it will certainly have proved a useful learning experience.