Teeing up with Leven Gold Medal winner Thomas Craig

Keith McIntyre tees up with 2022 Leven Gold Medal winner Thomas Craig ahead of this year’s competition. 

If you haven’t noticed, men’s golf in Scotland is on the up once again. Since the glory days of Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance, the nation that is the Home of Golf has struggled to produce genuine contenders to compete at the top of tournament leaderboards. That is quietly changing as a new breed of talent led by world number 54, Robert MacIntyre is gradually making a mark on the game. Following behind Bob Mac are a host of emerging players including Connor Syme, Euan Ferguson, Grant Forrest and Calum Hill who alongside stalwart tour pros like Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson and David Law are seemingly taking it in turns to record strong finishes on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour)

But it’s not just men’s professional golf that is thriving. To find positive signs in the amateur ranks you need look no further than Thomas Craig from Falkirk. Thomas is the proud holder of the 2022 Leven Gold Medal, the oldest amateur golf competition in the world. Thomas is about to defend his title in the 153rd playing of the tournament at the world-famous Leven Links beginning on 5th August.  To give a bit of context to the quality of golf required to win the gold medal, past winners include former world number one Lee Westwood as well as former Ryder Cup stars Andrew Coltart and Per Ulrik Johannson. It’s fair to say that you have to be a pretty decent golfer to win the gold medal, and having just had the pleasure of playing 18 holes in his company I think I can testify that Thomas Craig, 6ft 4  in height and leaner than a racing greyound, is a hell of a player.

Before we headed out to the delightful Leven Links course, I caught up with Thomas and Steve Laing from tournament sponsors American Golf in the clubhouse. When I asked Thomas if he was feeling the pressure of defending his title, his answer was delightfully candid “not really, I really love this course and feel right at home. In any case, so few golfers have come back and successfully defended that I don’t feel that weight of expectation”

In any case, before he concentrates on his title defence, he has the small matter of the Scottish Amateur Championship at Royal Dornoch to contend with first. Showing admirable skills in diplomacy, Thomas refused to be drawn on which of the two tournaments he would prefer to win if he had to choose, but admitted the scheduling of both tournaments so close together could cause issues. Although it should be noted that Steve from American Golf offered to personally drive him from Dornoch to Leven if scheduling got tight.

Thomas it seems was destined to follow a career in golf, his dad Stewart is teaching professional at Forth View Golf Range in Airth and as a Phil Kenyon certified putting coach is currently on duty at the open in Hoylake working with tour professionals. When I suggested that the at might lead to a bit of family tension, Thomas gave a wry smile “we have our moments, but I’d be daft not to listen to him, he really understands my game and knows what he’s talking about”

As for plans for the future, Thomas has his sights set on turning professional in the summer of 2025 after completing his golf scholarship in the United States. Having just finished two years at Iowa Junior College, He will return to the states to begin a news senior college term in Tennessee at the end of August. He is loving life across the pond and believes that it is significantly helping his game. “I love life in the US, and switching from the lush manicured fairways and greens out there to hard fast rolling links has helped me develop as a golfer who is comfortable in most conditions” Recalling his win at Leven last year he said “conditions were absolutely horrendous, blowing a gale, but I had the experience to deal with that and grind out a win” He is not sure what path he will take to join the professional ranks and is undecided on whether to go to Q school in Europe or have a bash at qualifying in the states through the Korn Ferry Tour, the level below the full PGA tour. He is also wise enough to know his bid for success could be an expensive business. While still an amateur he cannot seek sponsorship, but he is savvy enough to appreciate what sponsors can do for the game saying “you just have to look at what American Golf has done for the Gold Medal. Standard Life pulling out in 2020 could have been a hammer blow, but AG have been great for the competition, they really are the perfect fit”

It is then time to head out to the course and see exactly what this young man can do. We are Joined by Steve from American Golf alongside his colleague Paul Connor in what turns out to be a highly entertaining fourball in blustery conditions compounded by the odd squally shower – typical Scottish summer golfing conditions. By an unbelievable stroke of good fortune, which in no way was a fix, I am relieved to get Thomas as my partner. Now, I’m not a terrible golfer and have been as low as a five handicap until age and waistline have pushed me up to nine, but it is really disconcerting to be playing my second shot up to 100 yards behind my playing partner – He hits the ball an absolute mile and invariably arrow straight or with a beautifully controlled draw. In any other game we would be romping to victory. Unfortunately, Paul, who claims to be “just a beginner” and remarkably is given a stroke a hole, is playing like a single figure handicapper and we are quickly two down. This appeared to spur Thomas into action on the back nine – after I showed him the way with a birdie at 10 it has to be said – and he went on to give us all a bit of a golfing masterclass. We headed to the 18th tee one up with bragging rights still up for grabs. It would be churlish to say who holed the tricky three foot put to secure victory for our team…

So, while we all can take great pleasure in the Scottish revival in men’s professional golf, it is safe to say that with players like Thomas Craig coming through the amateur ranks we could be in for a golden period for the game in our country. It would be nice to see the young man from Falkirk join that elite band of players who have defended their Leven Gold Medal title come close of play on 6 August.

The Leven Gold Medal is played at Leven Links Golf Club on the weekend of 5 and 6 August.

Read more on Scottish Field’s Outdoors pages. 

Plus, don’t miss the July issue of Scottish Field magazine.