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The rise and rise of Rhys Davies should inspire Scots to follow suit

THE sight of Rhys Davies sitting proudly at No.45 in the golfing world and on the cusp of a place in Colin Montgomerie’s European Ryder Cup team in his native Wales in four months’ time following a fabulous burst of form this season is an example to Scotland of what can be done in a short space of time.

The top 50 are, of course, the world’s elite, eligible for all major and world championships. Like Scotland, Wales had no-one there – or even in the top 100 – a few months ago.

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At the start of the season, the 25-year-old existed only in the twilight world of the Challenge Tour with not much more than dreams to keep him going. Now he is living them.

At the Celtic Manor Wales Open, where Davies was making a run at his home title over the course that will host the Ryder Cup on October 1 to 3, the excitement was tangible. Montgomerie has said he would love to have a Welshman in his 12-man team to energise the crowds in the way that Paul Azinger, the victorious US captain in 2008, regarded the Valhalla legions as his 13th man.

This is a matter that is liable to become a recurring problem for Scotland in the run-up to the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014 and could yet be the catalyst for modernisation of what is increasingly being seen as a hopelessly fragmented administration with no single body taking a view of what is needed for Scottish golf as a whole.

Ireland have Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell while England have no fewer than four players in the world’s top 10 – Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Luke Donald, so who is going to emerge for Scotland?.

Every nation needs its sporting heroes and now Wales has one to heighten the ambitions of youngsters following in his wake. It’s exactly what Scotland is crying out for and there is no shortage of players as good as Davies was six months ago. The problem is instilling the belief for them to become as good as he is now.

Since his maiden victory in the Hassan II Trophy in Morocco in March, he has kicked on with runner-up finishes in the Madrid Masters and now the Wales Open to give himself a schedule including the US Open at Pebble Beach next week and then the Open Championship at St Andrews, which seemed wildly out of reach at the start of the season.

You suspect that Davies, with his confidence growing, will build on what he has achieved. He wants it all and was even raging at himself as he came off the Twenty Ten course on Sunday after a record nine-under-par 62 because he let birdie chances slip at the 17th and 18th.

He will not be intimidated at Pebble Beach. It is only three years ago, as a student at East Tennessee State University, that he was the US collegiate No.1 – just like Wales Open winner McDowell was before him while studying at the University of Alabama.

“The US Open is my focus now. Major championships are what I have always set my mind to and now I am getting to the stage of being exempt for these big events,” said the Edinburgh-born Davies on Sunday, and when he examined the rankings yesterday he would have found that he is now actually there.

McDowell himself is close to an automatic place in Montgomerie’s team and would love to see Davies on side. “He’s got a great short game and a hot putter. Now he’s starting to put a long game around it and that’s a dangerous combination. It’s great for Wales and I really hope he gets on the team. It would be great for the fans and the atmosphere in general.”

Who, then, should we be looking to in Scotland? There are the obvious candidates like Richie Ramsay and Martin Laird and there’s no reason why Stephen Gallacher shouldn’t make it big relatively late in his career. He was up to No.135 in the world yesterday after his joint fourth-place finish in Wales, making him the top home-based Scot.

In the Davies mould of emerging from near obscurity there are a couple of names that have been mentioned in this column before in connection with Davies and they are Lloyd Saltman, a former Walker Cup team-mate of Davies, who was high profile five years ago when he was joint 15th in the Open at St Andrews but has become something of a forgotten man.

Then there is Jordan Findlay, like Davies a former British boys champion and moreover a student team-mate of the Welshman at East Tennessee. Findlay is still an amateur and was considerably off the pace at the St Andrews Links Trophy at the weekend.

Davies’ position won’t have escaped his attention and likewise the Scots plying their trade on the Challenge Tour like Callum Macaulay, Jamie McLeary, George Murray and Scott Jamieson who will be out in force this week at Spey Valley for the Scottish Hydro Challenge, a tournament that could be our own stepping stone to the stars.

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