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It's boot camp time for our amateur underachievers

Criticism has been around since the dawn of time.

And even the dawning of time itself, an event similar to that of an Olympic opening ceremony, was given a severe slating.

From those primitive grumbles of discontent many moons ago, through to the expletive ridden online rants of the modern era, harsh words, put downs and kicks in the teeth remain the bricks and mortar of everyday life.

Last week at St Andrews, Steve Paulding, the performance manager of the Scottish Golf Union, was fairly outspoken as he passed judgment on Scotland's leading amateur golfers. The word "embarrassed" was used to describe the dismal Eisenhower Trophy campaign while the end- of-year raking over of the coals produced one, basic conclusion: "We have to do better."

When Paulding, a former manager of the British cycling team, was first introduced as the new man in the SGU set-up three years ago, a few eyebrows were raised. With no golfing background whatsoever, it was something of a bold move.

"I have no baggage, I come here with a clean slate and no-one either likes me or hates me because I have done something in the past," he said at the time of his appointment, although his tough talking last week may have changed a few players' views on him now.

Not long before Paulding arrived, the Scots had won both the Eisenhower Trophy and the European Team Championship. They have backpedalled since those heady days but, in this cyclical game with its furious amateur to pro turnover, there is always going to be rebuilding and transition.

Nevertheless, there can be no real excuses for those at the top end of the amateur scene. The benefits are bountiful and the opportunities for development are abundant. Golf at this level has changed immeasurably and the fact that there is now a 'performance manager' simply highlights this shift in approach.

This correspondent has always felt that the nature of the unpaid game in the upper echelons, where players can be waited on hand and foot, can be something of a double- edged sword. Yes, we all want the best for emerging talent and we want to give them every chance to fulfil their potential. In that sense, you have to applaud the work that is done. Yet, the cynical side always feels that there is a danger that a sense of complacency can set in amid this cosseted little environment where players are told they are good too early. And it comes home to roost when the harsh realities of the big bad world of professional golf strike.

Paulding, along with performance committee members Stephen Docherty and Andrew Coltart, the former Ryder Cup player, are all straight talkers and are not shy when it comes to telling players the things they perhaps don't want to hear.

A new tough stance is being adopted regarding the SGU squad system and Paulding has made it clear that players not committing or reacting fully to the various demands will be "sanctioned" and other players will be given a chance. While they won't be frog-marched into the centre of St Andrews and publicly whipped with the cat o' nine tails, it will be interesting to see if this golfing boot camp succeeds in giving players the necessary boot up the backside.

The standards in golf, at all levels, are rising and rising, the strength in depth gets deeper and deeper and Scotland has to react. You just have to look at the fortunes of the national football team to see what happens when you muddle on as before.

Resting on the laurels and trotting out the old chestnut that "we are the home of golf and we will always produce" doesn't cut the mustard.

Throughout the world there are various unions and federations doing exactly the same thing as the SGU in the ongoing quest for excellence and achievement and for every golfer who practises his or her short game for five hours there's another doing it for six. There are fitness coaches, nutrition experts and mind gurus to call on while the gathering of various stats, data, facts and figures on each players' scorecard, and the subsequent analysing of them, would have sent the codebreakers at Bletchley Park round the twist.

To the casual golfer, the staggering attention to off-course detail will seem bewildering. Natural talent on the course will always be at the core of this Royal & Ancient pursuit but the attributes of discipline, a strong work ethic and the dogged single-mindedness to do that little bit extra is what elevates it to a different level.

Players now have all of the support they could wish for at their disposal but, for all the folk beavering away on their behalf in the background, only the individuals themselves can really make it count. And if Paulding's rigorous regime doesn't work? Well, they can always try the cigars and red wine approach of Miguel Angel Jimenez.

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Health

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